Yough girls edge Burrell for spot in soccer semifinals

Thursday, October 24, 2019 | 9:06 PM

Natalie Vilchek left the game for an extended period of time in the first half Thursday night after she tweaked her right knee.

She returned and made an instant impact.

The Yough junior checked back in with her right knee wrapped in tape and immediately set up for, of all things, a corner kick.

Vilchek loves corner kicks.

The left-footer sent a bending cross to the far post, and Amber Biros headed it in for the game’s only goal as No. 5 Yough edged No. 4 and unbeaten Burrell, 1-0, in a WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal at Norwin.

The score came on Yough’s first shot of the night, with 8 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first half.

Yough (16-1-1) advances to the semifinals to play the winner of No. 8 Freeport (15-4) and No. 11 Hopewell (12-2) on Monday at a time and site to be determined.

The loss was the first for Burrell (17-1) since last year’s quarterfinal defeat against Hopewell. The Bucs had been one of the only two unbeaten, untied teams in the WPIAL (Freedom is 20-0).

Yough returned the favor after Burrell won 1-0 in last year’s first round.

“We worked so hard this year to get there,” Vilchek said. “We made it. Now, we’ve got to keep moving on. (Burrell) was definitely the best team we have played so far.”

Burrell had plenty of chances and limited Yough standout Justine Appolonia (32 goals) to one shot on goal. She did clear the ball to cancel out a Burrell possession with 1:05 left.

But Yough made the Bucs work for offense. Burrell had allowed just eight goals coming in.

The Bucs were seeking their first trip to the semifinals. Yough beat the Bucs two years ago in the quarters 3-2.

“I thought we played well,” Burrell coach Frank Nesko said. “We played hard, and they played hard. We certainly weren’t going to come in here and lay down. They’re a very good team, the best team we’ve played to this point.”

Yough coach Dann Appolonia said this game should have happened later in the bracket — maybe even the championship. He said Burrell was his toughest test of the season.

“It’s great to get back this far,” Appolonia said. “If we would have lost tonight, I can’t say I would have been disappointed. We would have simply lost to a better team. Burrell had no weaknesses and could move the ball from side to side.”

Vilchek has become proficient at corner kicks. She curled in two for goals this season. She said her accuracy makes her want to try to score, but she would prefer help.

“I always have that curve on it, and it drops right away,” Vilchek said. “Good thing we had Amber in there to get a head on it.”

Appolonia said he wanted to make sure Vilchek was healthy enough to check back in. He told her she had to show him she was ready to play.

She jogged back and forth on the track behind the bench, and the trainer cleared her to return.

“It just so happened that next corner kick came up,” Appolonia said. “She has been fantastic on corners all year. She dropped a beautiful one in there that we finished.”

The Cougars, in general, have been strong on corner crosses.

“Our team has been tremendous on corners,” Appolonia said. “In my eight years of coaching it seems like us winning corner kicks … was always a weakness of ours.”

This is the first year going into games saying, ‘We are the better team out of the air.’ ”

Burrell outshot the Wildcats, 8-3, and nearly tied it early in the second half. Maia Ferra came set and fired from just inside the 10-yard line, but her shot was a line drive off the right post in the 44th minute.

“It will be a long, tough ride home,” Nesko said. “But our girls were gracious in defeat.”

The Bucs were denied twice down the stretch by Cougars’ keeper Sara Krofchek, who made seven saves, including a rip by 29-goal scorer Allison Vescio on a nice through pass from Megan Malits.

“Sarah had many great saves,” Vilchek said. “She is our MVP tonight.”

Dann Appolonia said he told his players it was all about defense inside the final 20 minutes.

“It’s less about scoring (at that point) and more about staying on shape defensively,” he said. “I think we did a good job of that. We did a good job holding our lines and not giving them any easy shots. If they were going to score, they would have really had to earn it that last 20 minutes.”

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

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