Wexell, Norwin blank North Allegheny to reach girls soccer state semifinals

Saturday, November 11, 2017 | 4:15 PM

To: Sam Wexell. From: Her defense.

It was quite a birthday for Wexell, Norwin's senior goalkeeper, who posted her 51st career shutout to break the school record Saturday as the Knights blanked North Allegheny, 4-0, in the PIAA Class 4A quarterfinals.

Wexell could have used a new blanket as a gift on an ice-cold afternoon, but she will settle for another warm and cozy clean sheet.

“Everyone said this was going to be my present,” said Wexell, who had four saves and watched her defense play a near-flawless game in front of her at Fox Chapel's James Burk Athletic Complex. “That's all I wanted was to win and get the shutout, so it feels good.”

Senior Emily Harrigan scored two goals, giving her eight for the postseason, as WPIAL runner-up Norwin (19-2-1) advanced to the state semifinals for the second time in three years. It will play Conestoga Valley (22-2-1) on Tuesday at a time and site to be determined.

The winner goes to the state finals at 4 p.m. Friday in Hershey.

Norwin has not reached the state final since 1997.

The Knights shut out North Allegheny (14-8-1) three times this season.

“It helps that it's high-intensity games,” Wexell said of the shutout record. “That helps when you're trying to get a shutout. There are regular-season games where we're up by a lot, and it's hard to stay focused on those games and finish with a shutout. It's also secondary, though, to the fact we're winning and advancing.”

An Ohio recruit, Wexell had tied the school record of 50 shutouts held by Kori Koper (1999-2002) in the Knights' 4-0 win over State College in the state opener. She is third by herself on the WPIAL's all-time shutouts list and ranks seventh in state history.

Mara Lee had 56 clean sheets from 1992-95, and Jamie Pelosi had 55 from 1998-01. Both played at Hampton.

“Sam has put in the work every single practice and game since her freshman year,” Norwin coach Lauren Karcher said. “This is a well-deserved accomplishment.”

As usual, Wexell gave props to her defense. In particular, though, to senior defender Natalie Durmis, who made a huge stop in front of the net after Wexell came out to contest approaching attackers and fell down four minutes in.

It was the underscored play of the day. A shot was headed for an open net, but Durmis was there to absorb the attempt.

“She saved our butts,” senior defender Emily Arnold said of Durmis.

Norwin wiped its collective brow and played on.

“Once that happened and I went down and saw her go past me … The game is over,” Wexell said. “But when Natalie saved it that gave us so much more energy. That was huge.”

Said Karcher: “The defense and Sam get the credit today because they were a brick wall back there. The defense played out of their minds today.

“Natalie Durmis had the biggest play of the game. She headed it out of there, saved it from going in and that could have totally changed the moment was going for the game.”

Norwin came out with high energy, pelting Tigers goalie Olivia Ruppersburger with shots early, but play slowed to a crawl for the better part of the first half.

“It's a good thing knowing a team so well,” Karcher said. “Everybody knew which ones to mark, and we knew their style and they knew our style. We came out strong and hard like we did against them last time. It was a matter of time; we just had to keep taking shots.”

After a scoreless first half, Katy Ericson finally put Norwin in front when she connected from a tough angle just outside the goal box in the 45th minute.

With Tigers second-half keeper Julia Correa out far left, Ericson managed a long shot to the right, despite the cramped quarters. Correa could not chase it down in time.

Harrigan, a Rutgers recruit, delivered a blast from 30 yards about 13 minutes later to make it 2-0.

Alyssa Victor stayed with a play after a corner kick, resetting from about 20 yards away to curl a pass to Harrigan. The senior did the rest with a smooth header past Correa for a 3-0 advantage.

“They're a good team,” North Allegheny coach Chuck Kelley said. “They just really make it difficult to score goals. They have so much talent. There really is no weakness in their setup. If you make mistakes against them, it's an uphill battle.”

Victor was credited with the fourth goal, in the 79th minute. A North Allegheny player touched the ball last, before it bounced into the net.

Norwin lost in the state quarters last year.

“It's a good feeling to get back because we were so close two years ago,” Arnold said. “As seniors, we want to win states.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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