Mars is last obstacle in way of Plum girls soccer’s first WPIAL title

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Friday, November 1, 2019 | 5:41 PM


Earlier this season, the Plum girls soccer team ventured to Highmark Stadium for a matchup with section rival Oakland Catholic.

The result wasn’t what the Mustangs had hoped for as they suffered a 3-1 loss to the Eagles.

But almost two months from that Sept. 7 game, Plum still only has a ‘1’ in the loss column.

Plum is riding a 15-game unbeaten streak, and it returns to Highmark Stadium on Saturday with an opportunity to win the program’s first WPIAL title.

“Even before the season started, in workouts and pickup games over the summer, everyone was really pumped up because we knew we could have a good season,” junior striker Gina Proviano said.

“I was telling everyone that we were going to go to Highmark. As the season went on, we had more and more confidence in ourselves. Tying Oakland Catholic for the section title really fueled us a lot.”

Plum, with its best playoff seed, No. 2, will take on No. 1 Mars (17-0-1) for the title at noon. The Mustangs survived a penalty-kick shootout against Gateway in the first round, earned a 4-2 win over No. 7 Hampton in the quarterfinals and outlasted No. 3 West Allegheny, 1-0, in the semifinals.

“We are pretty confident after getting wins against three pretty tough teams,” senior defender Katie Patton said.

Plum (17-1-1) will make its first appearance in a WPIAL title game. Mars, seeking its sixth WPIAL title, its first since 2015 and its first in Class AAA, has outscored its opponents 39-0 over the past seven games.

The Planets backed up their lofty position in the bracket by overwhelming Trinity, 7-0, in the first round and doing the same in a 7-0 triumph over No. 9 Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinals.

Mars, runner-up to Oakland Catholic last year and Moon in 2017, punched its ticket to Highmark with a 2-0 semifinal win over No. 5 Belle Vernon. The only blemish on Mars’ record this year is a 3-3 tie against Seneca Valley, last year’s Class AAAA champion.

“It’s going to be a big challenge knowing how strong they are defensively and in the attack,” junior midfielder Emily Kirkpatrick said. “But if we can just hold our own and play well as a team mentally and physically, we can win it.”

Mars’ Taylor Hamlett and Ellie Coffield, a Pitt recruit, have more than 20 goals each. Coffield scored the winner against Belle Vernon off an assist from Hamlett, who added an insurance goal in the second half.

Plum entered the playoffs riding a four-game playoff losing streak.

Patton scored the Mustangs’ goal in regulation against Gateway, and goals in the shootout from Proviano, Kirkpatrick, Patton, sophomores Marissa Liberto and Emma Bennethum and freshman Kaitlyn Killinger helped the team move on.

“I think the girls had some things to prove to themselves entering the playoffs,” coach Jamie Stewart said. “Recent runs in the playoffs have not been good. They’ve ended shortly. They wanted to prove to themselves they could compete on this stage.

“Gateway was a hard first game. They gave us everything they had. You never know what can happen when you go to PKs. We went down 2-1 against Hampton, and coming back, I think, was a turning point for this playoff run. It comes down to everyone believing in themselves and each other.”

Killinger, who scored twice against Hampton, has 18 goals on the season, and Proviano has 14.

Liberto, who scored the winner against West Allegheny, has 12 goals. Junior Jamie Seneca has 10.

“The girls are not worried about who scores goals. They don’t care about the numbers,” Stewart said. “The only thing each one cares about is if they did their part well enough in a game to get the win. We talk about that a lot, and that’s the way they’ve played.”

Kirkpatrick has a team-leading 11 assists.

“I was just speechless when we scored the goal and knew we were that much closer to going to the finals,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re in the finals for the first time in (program) history, and it felt good to help make that happen.”

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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