Moon passes tough title-game test to complete PIAA 3-peat

Saturday, November 18, 2023 | 7:41 PM

MECHANICSBURG — Two Goliaths grappled in the Class 3A girls soccer state championship game.

Reigning back-to-back champion Moon defeated undefeated Abington Heights, 3-1, securing a state final three-peat Saturday night.

“Three in a row’s nice. I’m happy for the kids,” Moon coach Bill Pfeifer said. “To win one that really isn’t expected, I think it’s sweet.”

After a scoreless tie persisted through the first half, Moon sophomore Anna Palm scored in the 45th minute, giving the Tigers a second-half lead.

“It’s surreal. We’ve been talking about this since day one,” Palm said. “Obviously, we were champions last year. We wanted to get back to this point. It feels amazing.”

Abington Heights equalized off a breakaway from Lilia Calvert, but the Tigers responded three minutes later to retake the lead.

Once again, it was Palm.

“Last year, she was a junior varsity player, and all of a sudden, she scores two goals in the state final,” Pfeifer said. “Hopefully, it propels her to bigger and better things.”

Palm, one of the youngest players on the varsity squad, said her relative inexperience caused her to play with reservations early in the season.

When she was subbed on midway through the first half, Palm was determined to make amends for her previous hesitance and make herself known on the biggest stage.

“My nerves kind of settled down once I saw our team going and I figured out what I needed to do in my head,” Palm said. “I knew I had the potential last year. And here we are at the state finals and I got on the field and scored two goals, so (the work) paid off.”

In the 65th minute, senior Gabriella Larson netted an insurance goal.

On a Moon corner, Marina Mollica served up a perfect cross and Larson connected with a header, sealing the championship victory.

“She got it on the biggest stage. Good for her,” Pfeifer said. “All the older kids, I think they saw the end coming and they stepped it up.”

Entering the state final, Abington Heights was a perfect 23-0 on the season, largely due to its prolific offense. Calvert’s second-half equalizer marked the team’s 154th goal of the season — a program record.

Despite that acumen, Moon smothered a majority of the Comets’ possessions, in large part because of Serayah Leech. The senior goalkeeper imposed decisive control on the penalty box.

Late in the first half, Abington Heights created a one-on-one opportunity. Leech calmly came off her line, closed the space with her opponent and redirected the shot away from danger.

“She’s not going to sit back and wait, see what happens,” Pfeifer said. “She likes to make the forward play under pressure. If she waits on her line, I think they’re putting it in the back of the net.

“We don’t win without her — not just this year, the last three years.”

The Tigers’ complementary style of gameplay allowed them to control the game and claim a majority of the scoring chances.

“They just were a little bit better than us today. That’s really all it came down to,” Abington Heights coach Errol Mannick said. “My girls played hard. We had a couple good things here. Just didn’t quite go our way.”

For Pfeifer, the strong championship performance allowed the team’s current iteration to emerge from the shadows of their predecessors. It was a reward for years of hard work.

“Everybody has a target on their back for the ‘21 and ‘22 team. This is the ‘23 team. It’s completely different,” Pfeifer said. “And they stepped up to the challenge.”


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