West Xtra: Beaver girls clinch WPIAL playoff berth
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There is little margin for error for teams in Section 3-AA, considering there are only three playoff spots up for grabs and two are basically spoken for in preseason camp with powerhouses such as Central Valley and Hopewell in the section.
Beaver Area, a program that has been to the postseason the past five years, was well aware of what was needed in the regular season to make that six consecutive years in the playoffs.
"It is a battle to get those playoff spots," Beaver coach Rachael Schmitz said. "But you never know -- any team can beat any team on any given day."
Beaver picked up its most important wins of the season against Ambridge Area, shutting out the Bridgers, 2-0, in the first meeting and winning, 6-1, on the road in the second.
That was enough to clinch a WPIAL playoff berth for Beaver (9-5, 7-4). Ambridge completed Section 3-AA play with a 5-7 record and was 7-9 overall with two non-section games remaining to be played.
The Bobcats are scheduled to close section play tonight against Blackhawk.
Two of the best games played this season by the Bobcats were against the section powerhouses Central Valley and Hopewell. Beaver was edged by Central Valley, 2-1, on the road earlier this year and it fell, 2-0, to Hopewell in the second meeting against the Vikings. Beaver was tied with Central Valley 1-1 until the Warriors struck with 2:44 left to take a 2-1 lead.
"We came close to beating both teams, it just seems we can never get the tide to turn our way," Schmitz said.
Playing in a tough section may benefit the Bobcats, a team that knows plenty about seeding. After reaching the WPIAL semifinals in 2009 and the WPIAL championship game in 2010, Beaver drew No. 1 seed Mars in the first round last year.
Beaver fell to the eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Planets, 5-0.
"Mars was definitely a challenge," Schmitz said. "A game like that is a constant reminder. I think our focus right now is just look at the playoffs, see who we get and prepare for whatever is in front of us."
The Bobcats only graduated two starters from last season. It's offense has accounted for 60 goals through 14 games. The offensive attack is led by two forwards, junior Maggie Sestito and freshman Emily Ledbetter.
Sestito netted a pair of goals against Allderdice and Riverside and had a hat trick at Ambridge. Ledbetter had hat tricks against Ellwood City and Ambridge and a four-goal performance against Blackhawk.
In what appears to be the year of the freshman forward, Beaver has one of its own in Ledbetter, one of the fastest players in the WPIAL.
"I knew she was a solid athlete," Schmitz said. "She is learning and growing a whole lot. I expected her to be good, but I don't think I expected her to be as good as she was this year."
While Ledbetter relies more on her speed to create breakaway opportunities, Sestito prefers the ball at her feet.
"They complement each other," Schmitz said. "Other teams have caught on pretty quick with what we are trying to do with Maggie and Emily."
Ledbetter is part of a large freshman class at Beaver. Only graduate four seniors will graduate from this team and the Bobcats figure to remain a contender in the section for years to come.
Senior goalie Eleanor Neeley has been a team leader in net for the Bobcats who have shut out six of their first 14 opponents.
Beaver will close out its section schedule on Thursday when it plays host to Blackhawk. The Bobcats also have non-section games scheduled against Hampton and Moon before the end of the regular season.