Often times in games between two evenly matched opponents who are very familiar with each other, one play can make the difference.
The difference on Thursday night in the WPIAL Girls 1A soccer final came off the foot of Greensburg Central Catholic’s Sidney Ward. The senior midfielder’s lofting shot found just enough room into the upper right corner of the goal in the 25th minute to give the Centurians a one-goal lead that would hold up, lifting the school to its third WPIAL title in four years, and its sixth overall with a 1-0 win over Shady Side Academy at Highmark Stadium.
Even after the match, the game’s goal scoring hero deferred all of the praise to the Centurians defense, which held a strong Shady Side attack without a single shot on target, despite facing lots of pressure to earn a clean sheet victory.
“Our defense did a fantastic job tonight,” Ward said. “They worked so hard — and they were on every ball — and I appreciate them so much.”
The common theme reverberating among the Greensburg Central Catholic players and coaches alike in the celebration that followed the win was about their collective, team approach to earn this WPIAL title. For a program that has a history of winning — and producing scoring wonders like Frannie Crouse and Bailey Cartwright, who’ve gone on to play significant roles for major Division one college soccer programs — relying on defense and timely goals allowed this group of players to make it’s own mark in continuing the program’s winning tradition.
“We relied on the whole team — there wasn’t just one person,”Ashley Davis, Greensburg Central Catholic head coach said. “We truly played as a team, as a unit, and that was what made the difference in the end.”
Ward found herself with some space and room to shoot from nearly 30 yards from goal. It was a shot that looked more like a chip than a bending strike — but it effective and accurate enough to land in the top right corner area that evaded Shady Side keeper Molly Skvorak.
“It was a little out of her reach, what are you going to do,” Leah Powers, Shady Side head coach said. “She’s been a little hobbled by an ankle injury that’s kept her out of practice, but what can you do, you play with what you have.”
It would be the first goal Shady Side would concede in seven games, as Skvorak’s clean sheet streak would come to an end.
““The ball kind of popped out after the defense was clearing it,” Ward said. “And I was trying to shoot for power. I’m glad Sam (Fedler) was there to help guide the ball back to me.”
The Centurians held off a furious Shady Side second half effort that included nine corner kicks — and countless advances into the box — but nothing directly on frame as the Indians missed some golden opportunities to get the equalizer.
“They had some great momentum at the end, but we were able to dig our heels in and keep them out,” Davis said. “I am used to the 1-0 games, but it’s still really nerve-wracking.”
Greensburg Central Catholic did everything they could to limit the dangerous attacking combination of Krystna Rytel, a versatile box-to-box midfielder, and a pair of speedy forwards — Carol Davis and Sophia McMahon.
In the early going, Rytel was finding seems in the Centurians back line, playing pretty accurate vertical balls to both forwards, who were having some success getting behind defenders. Eventually, as the match wore on, Rytel pushed up into the final third a bit more as Shady Side kept looking for the equalizer.
Shady Side also began exploiting more space on the width — and into the waning moments of the match — they were winning numerous corner kicks. The ball found its way into the box numerous times, and in particular, one that Rytel redirected over the bar and a couple of balls to far post area for unmarked outside back Honora Navid, as the freshman miss connected on a few shots.
“It just wasn’t our best game, and Greensburg Central Catholic stepped up,” Powers said. “Games against these guys are always great. It would have been awesome to walk away with a win — but I have no doubt that we’re going to see them again.”
For Greensburg Central Catholic’s new coach, Davis, it was a rewarding to capture the WPIAL title in her first year, as the players she guided held on despite facing lot of pressure late in the game
“Our defense — we worked a lot with them this year — and they’ve come a long way. Toward the end of the game, I think we got a little bit excited, a little bit nervous and a bit tired at same time,” Davis said.”In the end, we pulled it together. To be able to come here, and do this, it’s amazing.”
PghSoccerScribe’s Post Game Notes:
For nearly a decade, Shady Side Academy and Greensburg Central Catholic have ruled over WPIAL Girls 1A soccer, as each school has won every title since 2010.
It was only fitting that the two section rivals would duke it out again at Highmark Stadium for the third time this season and fourth time this decade in yet another tightly contest for the district title. In total, it was the 23rd time the teams faced each other since 2010. GCC now holds the edge, 19-4, although three of those Shady Side wins were in WPIAL finals.
PghSoccerReport.com Player of the Match
Sidney Ward — Ward was the hero for Greensburg Central Catholic. After the match though, she would rather talk about how proud she was of her teammates than pat herself on the back for the game’s lone goal.
Long Hong Photo Gallery
GCC – Sidney Ward – 25′
Both teams will advance to the PIAA playoffs — which will begin with first round action on Tuesday. GCC will play District 9 runner-up Brockway. Shady Side takes on District 10 champion Wilmington.