North Xtra: Shady Side finally gets back to final

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Their first taste of high school girls soccer was a trip to the WPIAL championship match that ended with gold medals hanging around their necks.

That was in 2010 and for the current Shady Side Academy seniors, that freshmen year seems like a long time ago. The road back to the WPIAL title game has been a difficult one.

There was semifinal heartbreak for them as sophomores and juniors.

But on Monday night Shady Side Academy leaped over that semifinal hurdle and qualified for the WPIAL Class A title game courtesy of a 2-0 win against Sewickley Academy.

"Our goal was to get to the WPIAL championship," Shady Side Academy coach Mary Bushnell said. "We are excited about having this opportunity."

Now in the way of No. 3 Shady Side Academy (17-3) is another hurdle, No. 1 Greensburg Central Catholic (17-1). They will meet at 11 a.m. Saturday at Highmark Stadium at Station Square.

It was Greensburg Central Catholic who derailed WPIAL title hopes for Shady Side Academy in the WPIAL semifinals in 2011 and '12. The Indians have lost nine consecutive games to their section rivals, including a PIAA semifinal match last season that ended 4-3.

This year Shady Side Academy improved its chances of reaching Highmark Stadium by earning a No. 3 seed and being placed on the other side of the bracket, opposite Greensburg Central Catholic. The Indians' only losses came against Class AAA Fox Chapel and Greensburg Central Catholic. It posted non-section wins against West Allegheny, Ambridge Area and Avonworth while shutting out 12 of 17 regular-season opponents.

In the playoffs Shady Side academy shut out No. 14 Serra Catholic and No. 6 Avonworth to set up a showdown with No. 7 Sewickley Academy on Monday night.

The last time the Indians and Panthers met in the postseason, it was the 2010 WPIAL Class A final. Shady Side Academy prevailed, 1-0, Monday night thanks to two second-half goals from senior forward Maggie Scott.

Scott and senior midfielder Zoe Schoen are two senior leaders and two players who started on the 2010 WPIAL championship squad.

"I think as seniors, they know this is their last chance," Bushnell said. "I know they are really excited at returning to the final. It was a goal they had all season and they worked really hard for it."

It was no surprise at all that it was Scott coming up with two huge goals in a huge game. Her first goal was an unassisted strike that came after a long run through a number of defenders. Her second goal came on the rebound of a penalty kick.

"She definitely has a knack of scoring in big games and has been able to step up especially in close games like this," Bushnell said. "She is quick and she is good with the ball.

"By now Maggie is used to being 'man marked.' We have tried to work with her moving the ball quickly and she is able to get free really well and she creates scoring opportunities."

The Shady Side Academy defense has shut out all three playoff opponents and has shut out six consecutive opponents overall. Bushnell, an assistant from 2010-12 and now in her first year as head coach, adopted a flat-back defense rather than the diamond defense used last year.

Freshman Eliza Cochran has stepped up and been an anchor at central defender playing in front of her older sister, senior goalkeeper Olivia Cochran. Olivia Cochran was another player on the 2010 WPIAL championship team.

"Our defense has played very well," Bushnell said. "We have really worked hard and they started to become more comfortable with working together."

Juniors Kara Pooley and Tori Winter and sophomore Olivia Cotter also start on the defense.

That defense will be put to the test in the WPIAL finals. The defense has allowed 20 goals all season, 15 of them came against Greensburg Central Catholic.

"We certainly know each other's strengths and weaknesses," Bushnell said. "I think we will try to change some things and do some things this week to prepare for them. It will just be working on things and doing what we know how to do and following through."

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