McKenzie Pritts comes up big for Yough in win over Deer Lakes

Tuesday, October 26, 2021 | 10:01 PM

Yough has relied heavily on the offensive prowess of junior McKenzie Pritts this season.

The star forward, who verbally committed to Robert Morris last month, found the back of the net 23 times during a regular season slate in which the Cougars won 12 games and finished third in Section 3-2A.

Pritts was once again at the forefront of Yough’s offensive attack Tuesday night as she finished with a hat trick in leading the eighth-seeded Cougars to a 3-1 victory over ninth-seeded Deer Lakes in the first round of the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs on Cougar Mountain.

Pritts tied the game in the final 10 minutes of the first half before netting two more goals in the opening 10 minutes of the second to send the Cougars (13-3-1) into a quarterfinal meeting with No. 1 North Catholic Saturday.

“We needed her to come through today and she did. She played with a lot of energy and she showed why she’s a Division I recruit,” Yough coach Dann Appolonia said of Pritts. “When we got the ball to her, she was kind of a one-player show up there. She did a ton of work up top to make things happen and convert for us.”

Entering the first-round matchup, Deer Lakes coach Frank Accetta knew his group had to work to contain both Pritts and freshman standout Kendalyn Umbel.

The Lancers (10-8), who have their own talented scoring duo in Madeline Boulos and Ashley McAdams, held Pritts and Umbel in check for a majority of the first half before the surge of three unanswered goals.

“They did a better job of containing our two stars than we did in containing theirs,” Accetta said. “McKenzie took over and they found a way to shut down our better players. It’s not for a lack of effort on our part, but big-time players do what McKenzie did.”

McAdams scored Deer Lakes’ lone goal of the game as part of a six-shot first-half effort for the Lancers.

Shortly after Yough goalkeeper Marin Sleith made a save on a ball that nearly snuck across the goal line, McAdams delivered by beating a pair of Yough defenders to an outlet pass from Boulos before finding the back of the net for a 1-0 Deer Lakes lead with 16:42 to go in the half.

Deer Lakes finished with 10 total shots, but Yough’s back line was strong in front of Sleith, who finished with six saves in the win.

“They have two of the most dangerous forwards we’re going to face all year,” Appolonia said. “I thought our defense did a good job of containing them.”

The Cougars, who generated their share of opportunities with 10 total first-half shots, worked tirelessly to get a goal in the opening 30 minutes.

Early in the half, Haley Lauffer settled a cross pass from Umbel before firing a shot in close that was saved by Deer Lakes keeper Aby Cacurak, who totaled six saves. Then, after the Lancers went up by one, Pritts had a breakaway attempt halted by Cacurak. The ball trickled over to Umbel for a rebound opportunity, but her shot was deflected by a Deer Lakes defender.

Just over three minutes after Pritts’ offensive chance, she found a way to convert on another. Pritts took a pass from Umbel and scored on a shot that just sailed past the diving hands of Cacurak to tie the game at 1-1 with 7:20 before halftime.

“I knew we weren’t going to shut them out tonight and I’m actually overjoyed that we held them to one goal,” Appolonia said. “They want to score goals and they dare you to outscore them. That was a huge goal for us to get even going into halftime.”

Pritts wasted little time notching her second goal of the night as she gave the Cougars a 2-1 edge less than three minutes into the second half. She found a way to get her foot on a bouncing ball inside the box and put it past Cacurak for a momentum-shifting tally.

“I think we stole a little bit of their thunder and started to get them down a little bit with that second goal,” Appolonia said. “We really took control of the game from that point forward.”

Pritts finished off the hat trick just over five minutes after her second goal. She found her way past the Deer Lakes defense for a breakaway opportunity, but Cacurak made an aggressive play by coming out to make a save on a point-blank shot. The rebound, however, was close enough for Pritts to track as she regained her balance, approached the loose ball and fired a shot into an open net for the final goal of the night.

“McKenzie has been doing this for us for three years now,” Appolonia said. “She just always seems prepared to answer the call.”

A year after picking up an upset win over top-seeded South Park in the quarterfinals, Yough has an opportunity to once again cause havoc in the Class 2A bracket when it faces the two-time defending WPIAL champions from North Catholic this weekend.

Appolonia and the Cougars head into the matchup with a “Why not us?” type of attitude.

“Our season is not over and nobody may expect us to beat North Catholic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t,” Appolonia said. “It’s going to be a challenge and we’ll have our hands full, but as we’ve shown year after year, we’ll go out and compete against anyone.”

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