Gateway girls soccer bounces back from 0-3 start

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Friday, September 20, 2019 | 7:52 PM


In its Section 1-AAA debut against Mars on Sept. 4, the Gateway girls soccer team gave the Planets, last year’s WPIAL runner-up and PIAA quarterfinalist, all they could handle before losing 2-1.

Five days later, the Gators played competitively with Kiski Area before the Cavaliers finished off a 2-0 win.

Despite those early losses, Gateway coach Kelly Bender said she saw, from the start, the ability of her deep roster to compete in the section and be in the mix for the WPIAL playoffs when the middle of October rolls around.

“In the first part of the section, we definitely proved that we could play with any team, and we hope to keep building upon that and get some good wins coming up in the second half of the section schedule. We’re hoping to pull off a few upsets against the teams above us in the section, for sure.”

After an 0-3 start, which included a close 2-1 nonsection loss to rival Plum in its opener, Gateway put three in the win column. The Gators fired on all cylinders in outscoring section foes Knoch and Armstrong and nonsection Latrobe by a combined 17-1.

Mars (6-0), Hampton (5-1) and Kiski Area (4-2) lead the way in the section through three weeks of play. The Gators, tied with Indiana at 2-3 in the standings, were not able to break through on the scoreboard Wednesday in a 2-0 loss to Hampton.

“Hampton is a really talented team, and it was a pretty even game,” Bender said. “Both teams got some good scoring chances, and they just got more in than us. Overall, it was a pretty good game to watch. Hopefully, we can get them the second time around.”

The Gateway players have their focus trained on Monday’s first meeting of the season against rival Franklin Regional. The Panthers sit in the fourth and final playoff spot from the section to the WPIAL playoffs with a 3-3 record, one-half game ahead of Indiana and Gateway.

“Franklin Regional is always great competition for us,” said Bender, recalling the two matchups last year that ended in a 0-0 tie and a 3-1 Gateway victory.

“They have talent throughout the field and they are very well-coached. We look forward to this game every time because we know it’s going to be competitive. It’s such an important game.”

Gateway’s victory over Franklin Regional at the end of the 2018 regular season sealed the section’s final playoff spot for the Gators over both the Panthers and Indiana.

“We are really looking forward to this game,” senior attacker Maura Ryan said.

“We’ve had a few days to bounce back from the loss to Hampton and figure out the things we need to fix. We should be able to come out ready for a good game against Franklin because we know how important it is.”

Gateway has surrendered nine goals in seven games, and the defense, paced by multi-year starters junior Joelle Jenkins and seniors Brie Key and Eden Batt, as well as senior goalkeeper Maddy Neundorfer, hopes to stay strong.

Sophomore Addy Green, with four goals, leads the team in scoring, and seniors Becca Kubler and Miranda Pioth have three each.

Bender said she expects several others in the offense to make their mark in coming games.

Bender said a trio of freshman — Daniella Garner, Emily Mannion and Madi Jesih — are showing their versatility and have stepped up in their first varsity seasons.

The stretch run, not only for the Gators but for all the teams in the section, Bender said, should be interesting to watch. For Gateway, after a home game Tuesday against McDowell, from Erie, the second half of the section slate kicks off at home Wednesday against Mars.

“It’s kind of nice because you have so many tough games during the regular season, it prepares you for the playoffs,” Bender said. “But to be in the playoffs, you have to survive the section, and that’s very difficult. We are blessed to be able to play against these teams, and hopefully, we can pick up some big wins and get back to the playoffs.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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