Mars girls solve Franklin Regional defense in OT, run unbeaten streak to 79

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Thursday, October 27, 2022 | 10:16 PM


Try as they might, teams just can’t stop the streak.

Franklin Regional “parked the bus,” as coaches like to say, employing a back-line-heavy approach behind the ball to make scoring a chore for mighty Mars.

With eight girls back, the Panthers contested shots, played physically and continuously cleared the ball, sacrificing offense along the way.

But the Fightin’ Planets still found a way around the jam-up and extended their revered unbeaten streak to 79 games with a 1-0 overtime victory Thursday night over the visiting Panthers in a WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal.

Defender Gwen Howell headed home a corner kick from Addison Girdwood with 1 minute, 34 seconds to play in overtime to lift the top-seeded Planets (16-0) into the semifinals.

After having some trouble against No. 16 seed Penn-Trafford in the first round Monday — Mars won 1-0 in overtime on another corner goal by Howell — the Planets were ready for another defense-first opponent.

Their patience was tested, and the Planets passed again.

“We had three corners in a row. I guess the third one was the charm,” said Howell, a Richmond commit. “It’s awesome what we have been able to do, but it’s not all about the streak. It’s about winning each game.

Franklin Regional was really intense and gave us great competition.”

Having not lost since Sept. 10, 2018 in the PIAA finals, Mars moves on to play No. 5 Latrobe (12-2-2) at 8 p.m. Tuesday at a site to be announced.

Latrobe blanked No. 4 Thomas Jefferson, 3-0.

No. 9 seed Franklin Regional ends the season at 11-6-2. All six of the Panthers’ losses came via shutout.

“If you keep giving them chances, eventually they are going to get something in on a corner,” Franklin Regional coach Scott Arnold said. “The way Mars plays works well for them. We wanted to do what we’ve done all year and try to win with our defense. We used our defensive-minded forwards in the back.”

The corner was the first — and only — set piece the Panthers allowed for a goal all season.

They were 11-0-2 when they scored at least one goal.

But three-time defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Mars fired 27 shots at keeper Aris Lamanna, who put on a clinic with 21 stops. The Panthers had two shots on frame.

Lamanna made a leaping stop just before the decisive corner, batting away an attempt by Girdwood with 2:25 left in extra time.

Mars had 10 corner kicks, hit the crossbar and nearly scored on a free kick and a volley. But the Panthers held strong.

“We know teams are going to (pack the box) against us, and we prepare for it,” Mars coach Blair Gerlach said. “It was a testament to our girls that they were able to create that many scoring chances with that many back there.”

Mars has allowed only three goals all season.

Look at it this way: They have 60 shutouts in their last 79 games. That total includes 13 clean sheets this year.

“Our girls keep coming at you,” Gerlach said. “Franklin Regional did really well and had a great gameplan. Big games, I tell the girls all the time, are won and lost on restarts.”

Arnold, like Penn-Trafford coach Jimmy Mastroianni on Monday, was impressed with how his team played against the champs.

“It’s high school soccer,” Arnold said. “Unless you’re the state champ, you’re going to lose. Our girls played as hard as they could and supported each other. They should be proud of how they played.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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