West Xtra: Coach's move pays off for Central Valley

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It was a situation Central Valley had only been in once previously but it was a situation that the team was prepared for.

In the WPIAL semifinals on Monday night, Central Valley was trailing defending PIAA Class AA champion Moon Area, 2-1. It was only the second time all season the undefeated Warriors had to overcome a second-half deficit.

Coach Mark Perry knew exactly what to do.

Just as he did when his team trailed Hopewell, 1-0, in the second half during a regular-season match on Oct. 7, Perry moved defender Ashley Mutkus to attacking midfielder.

Just like his team did against Hopewell, the move paid off and Central Valley (18-0-0) found a way to equalize the score with about 11 minutes to play in regulation. The Warriors would go on to win in overtime, 3-2, and advance to the first WPIAL championship game in the short four-year history of the program.

Moving Mutkus up to the attack gave Central Valley a spark and opened things up.

Central Valley lost to Moon in the WPIAL semifinals in overtime last season. That Central Valley team featured seven freshmen. This time those seven freshmen were sophomores.

"The experience they got last year was huge," Perry said. "Last year we were a huge underdog. [Moon's players] were seniors, we were freshmen and we hung with them. We remembered that."

Central Valley had lost in the prior two WPIAL semifinals, including the overtime setback to Moon last season. Perry had been 0-3 in WPIAL semifinals dating back to 2009 at Center prior to the merger with Monaca that formed Central Valley.

The Warriors showed their multiple scoring options and quick-strike ability on Monday night. All three goals were scored by outside midfielders. Hannah O'Connor, a top goal scorer a year ago before moving from central midfield to outside midfield, scored in the first minute of regulation. Olivia Pritt, who scored 13 regular-season goals, scored the tying goal in the second half and her twin sister, Cassie, scored 1:47 into overtime.

"We got three goals from our outside midfielders, that is not normal for us," Perry said.

Freshman Carolina Lucci and senior Katie Alexander were the top two goal scorers for Central Valley during the regular season.

"Everyone puts their attention to Katie and Carolina and they both had good chances to score [Monday night]," Perry said. "Katie and Carolina were extremely tightly marked.

"The goalkeeper from Moon made some really good saves, we missed good chances and the other girls picked them up. I don't think it was so much what Moon was doing as much as our outside midfielders finished the chances they got."

There is a lot of youth on this Central Valley team, but also a lot of experience with two senior starters in Alexander and Mutkus and junior center midfielder Karina Fratangeli.

Central Valley was the only WPIAL team to enter the postseason undefeated. The Warriors notched impressive non-section wins against Upper St. Clair and Gateway. Yet in the playoffs Central Valley was seeded No. 2 behind Mars Area, which was 15-1-2 but the three-time defending WPIAL champions.

Some had anticipated a WPIAL final matchup between Mars and Moon, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champions, respectively. Mars was upset in the WPIAL quarterfinals by No. 8 Hopewell and Moon fell to Central Valley.

The WPIAL Class AA final will be a Section 3 showdown between Central Valley and Hopewell (15-4). Last season the two teams tied in both of their regular-season meetings and ended up sharing the section title. This year Central Valley swept the Vikings, winning 4-3 and 2-1.

"The girls have not been to the finals in the five years I have been here," Perry said. "This was a big step. This is unfamiliar territory."

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