Peters Township goalkeeper Megan Parker makes a save, denying Bethel Park's Tatiana Ruzzini, left, and Hayley Hulbert, right.
By Nicholas Tolomeo / Tri-State Sports & News Service
The Peters Township girls soccer team had chances to play regular-season games at the newly opened Highmark Stadium.
The home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in Station Square was eventually going to be the host of all the WPIAL championship games this season but in the meantime teams were scheduling regular-season meetings there.
Indians coach Pat Vereb wanted none of it.
He wanted his team to earn a trip to Highmark Stadium.
Earning a trip seemed like a sure bet considering Peters Township has played in five consecutive WPIAL finals.
But this was shaping up as a rebuilding year even before two-time Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year Veronica Latsko was lost for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury last spring.
After that injury, an appearance in the WPIAL finals was far from a foregone conclusion.
But Vereb still wanted his team to earn it.
The Indians did, taking the long way at times, but No. 2 Peters Township (16-4-1) will have earned every minute of its game at 6 p.m. Friday in the WPIAL Class AAA final against Seneca Valley (17-2-1).
"[Making it to Highmark Stadium] was a huge thing for us," Vereb said. "We were telling the kids, a lot of the older players had been to the final before but it was sort of having that carrot out there of being able to compete for a championship in the best soccer stadium in the area. We wanted to be able to say, if we are going to Highmark, we are going to earn it, we are going to wait."
Peters Township needed shootout wins to get past No. 10 Pine-Richland in the WPIAL quarterfinals and No. 6 Bethel Park in the WPIAL semifinals on Monday night.
Against the Black Hawks, Peters Township could not hold onto a 1-0 lead. Bethel Park equalized the score in the second half and then the Indians watched as senior Emily Franty was sent off with 28 minutes to play in overtime with two yellow cards. Playing with only 10 players, Peters Township was playing for a draw through regulation and overtime to force penalty kicks. In the shootout the Indians won, 3-1.
"Ironically, that is probably the best we played the whole game," Vereb said. "The girls fought so hard to stay in the game and withhold any offensive attack. I don't know if we deserved to win the game, but we deserved to force overtime."
Aside from the new venue this WPIAL final appearance has a different feel than the previous five.
"On some level, you could argue this is the most satisfying," Vereb said. "This was a rebuilding year and then you had the injury to Veronica. You hate to say reloading because a lot of these kids have no experience. There were a lot of new faces and younger kids stepping into new roles.
"It has been a pretty satisfying year."
Peters Township relied on five new starters in the WPIAL semifinal game plus junior Carly Johns, who was playing in the field after starting as a goalkeeper last year.
"This year has been about convincing a new group of younger girls that they can do something that some of their predecessors have done," Vereb said. "We have had some teams who were expected to win or get to the finals and this team was not one of them."
Peters Township was undefeated against WPIAL competition last year and only lost one game all season. This year it dropped regular-season games to Cumberland Valley and Norwin and to its opponent Monday night, Bethel Park, and its opponent in the WPIAL final, Seneca Valley.
"We certainly thought we could make it back, I think it was a wide open year in Triple-A," Vereb said. "We thought if we could play hard, we could make it. Now winning two penalty-kick shootouts to get there ... that was not the formula."
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