Surprising Freeport girls ‘want it all’ entering WPIAL soccer semifinals

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Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 7:13 PM


Akina Boynton scored 11 goals during the regular season to help the Freeport girls soccer team to a 14-4 overall record, a runner-up finish in Section 2-AA and the No. 8 seed for the WPIAL playoffs.

But perhaps none of those goals had the pressure or impact as the one she scored in the waning seconds of Thursday’s quarterfinal game at top-seeded Hopewell.

Boynton, a freshman midfielder, made a run and finished a crossing pass from senior Sidney Shemanski with 23 seconds on the clock to give the Yellowjackets a 2-1 victory to advance to the semifinals.

“The energy level was really high in that game, and everyone was trying to do what they could to help get that winning goal,” Boynton said. “It was such a surreal feeling. It took a while for it to fully sink in that we won this game and I was able to contribute to it the way I did. When I woke up (Friday morning), I was like, ‘Wow, I actually did that.’ ”

Shemanski said she wasn’t surprised Boynton was in position for the winner.

“Akina works her butt off in practice and in games,” Shemanski said. “She wants to finish on every opportunity. There was a game where she was so aggressive, she ran through the ball and was literally laying in the net after she scored.”

Freeport (16-4) will face No. 5 Yough (16-1-1) at 6 p.m. on Monday at Mars for the right to play for the title at Highmark Stadium. Both teams are seeking their first WPIAL crowns.

Yough, the Section 3 co-champions with No. 3 South Park, topped previously undefeated Burrell in their quarterfinal match as Amber Biros’ goal off a corner kick late in the first half held up in a 1-0 victory over the fourth-seeded Bucs.

Freeport, a youthful group with 21 freshmen and sophomores on a roster of 31, is in the semifinals for the third time in four seasons. The Yellowjackets beat Waynesburg in the 2016 to advance to the championship game. They lost to Waynesburg in the 2017 semifinals.

“The girls are elated right now,” said Freeport coach Brittni Grenninger, overseeing what she called an energy-filled practice Friday afternoon.

“They just want to keep going. They know they are guaranteed two more games at this point with the consolation game, but they want it all. They want to play at Highmark. Only a couple were there (Shemanski and seniors Emma Miller and Kylie Hoffman) as freshmen in 2016, so everyone is working hard to get the team back there.”

The fourth senior this year, midfielder Madeline Miller, joined the team as a sophomore.

Freeport and Yough also met in the 2016 quarterfinals, and the Yellowjackets won 3-0 on their way to the title game.

“The playoffs feel like a whole new world, and we’re rolling with the momentum,” Grenninger said. “We played two very good teams and were able to find a way to win both. When we saw the playoff bracket for the first time, we realized how competitive the games were going to be and how it truly was going to be anyone’s game. The only thing we can control each game is the effort we put into it, and if you work hard, good things can happen.”

Things didn’t start well in Thursday’s quarterfinal as Hopewell scored 10 seconds into the game. But the Yellowjackets defense and freshman keeper Maddy Zarichnak clamped down and kept the potent Vikings offense off the board the rest of the way.

Shemanski scored her 37th goal in the first half to tie the score.

“We were shocked and couldn’t believe (the Hopewell goal) happened that quickly,” junior defender Hannah Thomas said. “We knew after that we had to pick it up.”

Freeport, which opened the playoffs with a 2-1 overtime victory over Waynesburg, has allowed one or zero goals 14 times this season.

“I know, as a freshman, how great of a feeling that was to make it to Highmark, and I want everyone to experience that,” Shemanski said. “We understand how much of a challenge Monday’s game will be, and we can’t look past that. But I know how much the freshmen and every other girl on this team wants this.”

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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