Southmoreland girls rally late to win, advance to PIAA soccer tournament

Thursday, November 4, 2021 | 10:28 PM

The thought of playing in the PIAA playoffs motivated Southmoreland. The program, after all, hadn’t been to the state tournament since 2009.

The thought is now a reality.

With a late, relentless surge, the Scotties rallied past Shady Side Academy, 3-2, in the WPIAL Class 2A consolation/PIAA play-in game Thursday night at Norwin Knights Stadium.

Junior Olivia Cernuto had a goal and a key assist to junior Kendall Fabery — all inside the final seven minutes — to lift the Scotties (15-2-2), who advance to play District 10 champion Villa Maria (15-4) on Tuesday in the first round at a time and site to be determined.

“We got down, but we knew we had to work hard,” Fabery said. “We grinded, put our heads down and didn’t let up.”

Shady Side Academy (12-3-1) looked poised to advance to the state tournament, nursing a 2-1 lead late in the nip-and-tuck match between WPIAL semifinal teams. But the state-seasoned Bulldogs couldn’t slow Cernuto and Fabery, who worked in tandem to get their team into the PIAA bracket.

The Bulldogs, who came in 12-1-1 in their last 14 games, saw Cernuto net the equalizer and Fabery the winner to end their season.

“Shady Side came out in the second half and showed why they’re a great team,” Scotties coach Josh Pajak said. “With 10 minutes left, we’re going to move the two forwards, play diagonal passes, and it worked out.”

With shots becoming less frequent in the second half, and time ticking away, the Scotties made their push.

Cernuto delivered a low strike from about 25 yards that barely got off the turf. The grounder went in left past a lunging Erin Vanetta to tie it 2-2 in the 75th minute.

“That goal lifted everybody’s energy up, and that carried us into the third goal,” Cernuto said. “She was hugging the near post, and the back post was wide open. I just aimed for there.”

Then, with just 3 minutes, 59 seconds remaining, came another chance in close. Cernuto nearly had to wrap a feed around the near post, but she somehow managed to get it to Fabery, who registered her second score of the night to make it 3-2 in the 78th minute.

“I was down on the line, and I didn’t have a good angle to get a shot,” Cernuto said. “I needed to make a perfect pass right to her. I saw her wide open at the top of the six, and I just had to get it far enough away from the goalie for her to tap it in.”

Fabery has been playing alongside Cernuto for years and knows her tendencies.

“I saw Liv going for it,” Fabery said. “I knew she was either going to take a shot off or cross it in, so I knew I had to be there for the cross or the rebound.”

Said Pajak: “They’re clutch players. Big players come through in big moments, and two big players came though there.”

Southmoreland struck first in the seventh minute as the Scotties made a rush toward the net. Amanda Hoffer followed up a deflection and tapped a loose ball past Shady Side keeper Vanetta, who came out 10 yards to defend.

“We came out slow. We had that lead, so we thought we were OK,” Cernuto said. “We let them back in the game. We had to motivate ourselves and get back in it and take it step by step.”

Shady Side Academy, clearly with halftime adjustments in hand, delivered the equalizer in the 44th minute. Southmoreland wasn’t able to clear it, and freshman midfielder Lucille McCargo alertly chipped in a tight shot to make it 1-1.

In the 61st minute, Bulldogs forward Gabby Hill-Junke, a senior captain, took the ball wide and went one-on-one with a defender, made a stutter-step and touched the ball ahead. She then drove toward the cage and scored past Scotties keeper Alexa Smith to make it 2-1.

Southmoreland outshot the Bulldogs, 12-9. Vanetta had six saves.

“That was a hard game,” Pajak said. “Our kids didn’t give up. That was all heart.”

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

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