By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
EDINBORO — Saturday’s drizzle deteriorated into a downpour. But a decade of disappointment dissolved into the dawning of a new day for Hickory High girls’ soccer program.
Lauren Bell beat goalkeeper Elyza Pilatowski with 25:40 remaning in the 1st half, then the Lady Hornets’ defense dominated the 2nd half, resulting in a 1-0 win over Mercyhurst Prep in the District 10 Class AA title tilt.
“It’s been ten years of waiting for this day, and I’m so proud of the girls,” Hickory Head Coach B.J. Rudge related. “This is not only the first time we’ve won it for our program; it’s the first girls’ program in Mercer County to win the District 10 title.”
Mercyhurst Prep had a hex over Hickory. The Lady Lakers launched the Lady Hornets from the D-10 tourney each of the last 2 years. At Gen. McLane High’s Linden Field, however, Hickory (18-1-1) harvested the championship by limiting the Lady Lakers’ offensive opportunities.
“I really didn’t have much to do with it (Satur)day; I had one good save, then my defense did the rest,” explained Hickory goalkeeper Morgan McBride, who mused, “It was definitely a group effort ...
“I’m really (the defense’s) biggest fan when I don’t have to touch the ball a lot,” McBride added, noting, “I didn’t even have a punt or a goal-kick in the second half, so that just shows how focused we were and how we kept up the pressure on them.”
Hickory defenders Madison Bell, Brianna McGowan, Patrice Clemenza, McKenzie Gruber and Alura Dillon teamed with midfielders Jackie White, Sara Suler, Marissa DeJulia, M.K. Bair, Isabella Spadafora and Gia Pascarella to control the ball and consume the clock.
Rudge related, “We told them at halftime, ‘Girls, we’re a better team; play that way. Don’t play not to lose, play to win. Put the pressure on them,’ and they did a great job.”
According to District 10, Prep produced a pair of AAA titles (1996, 2006), then proceeded to the AA plateau 2 of the last 3 years (2010, 2012, sandwiching Harbor Creek’s 2011 crown.
“The last two years we’d lost to them, 2-1. And I told the girls last year when we lost — here at Gen. McLane — ‘Use this as motivation. Prep’s a great program; they definitely motivate us to become a better team.
“I’m just so proud of these girls, they earned this,” Rudge emphasized. “This win is not just for this group here. They did this for all those girls that came before them and wanted to be in this moment.”
Mercyhurst Prep mentor Jamie Borowicz — a Mercer native — observed, “Hickory’s a big, strong team, and they were knocking us around quite a bit. I thought that for us to keep it one-nothing was kind’ve nice. We were able to hold them off the second half, not give another one up, so that at least gave us a shot.”
Borowicz’s background provided perspective though he has been teaching at Prep for 31 years (he took the Lady Lakers to a trio of district titles during a prior 12-year stint during the 1980’s and early 90’s, before taking time off to pursue a doctoral degree).
“I know all those years when teams up in Erie had the advantage because they played the year ’round. Now these clubs at the other end of the district are getting some year ’round players, getting more experience,” Borowicz said. “Hickory’s got a great program, got a great facility, and I think they’re gonna be the big contender here.”
There were a pair of pivotal points in the 1st half prior to Lauren Bell’s goal.
With 30:40 remaining, Mercyhurst Prep defender Anna Dzuricky went down with a broken collarbone. Ironically, on the same play sweeper Kaia Russell pulled a hamstring
“We had some inexperienced people in the back, so we had to bring some of our halfbacks back to support (the defense),” Borowicz began. “We were just kind’ve hoping in the second half to hang on, keep it to one goal, and if we could get a breakaway or a ball punched forward we’d get a chance to equalize it. But we had our backs against the wall.”
Sixteen seconds prior to Bell’s goal, White was awarded a point-blank penalty kick; however, Pilatowski played it perfectly, deflecting the shot intended for the goal’s lower-left quadrant.
The Lady Lakers, like Hickory, are an underclassmen-dominant team. In addition to Dzuricky, there is the only other senior listed on Prep’s roster; similarly, McBride and Chelsea Panin are Hickory’s lone seniors.
Hickory, which equalled the program’s single-season standard for wins set 2 years ago, will meet WPIAL 3rd-place finisher Moon Township in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs on Tuesday. Though the set has not been set, it’s scheduled to be somewhere in D-10. Ironically, the teams scrimmaged earlier this year.
An emotional Rudge reflected,
“I think being here so long, knowing the history, that moment when I knew we’d won, I thought of all those times we were so close. I was thinking about going to the locker room, the girls crying, you’re crying because you knew how hard they’d worked.
“It makes this moment that much sweeter and special,” Rudge related. “There was a few of our alumni (Michelle DeGerolamo, Robyn McGowan, Julia White, Alexis McBride) here, and I told them, ‘This victory, you’re part of this.’
“It’s special, because we try to creat this as a family unit,” Rudge remarked.
From the fringe of Mercer County, Wilmington girls (2010-11) in Class A were the only other girls’ soccer squad to win D-10.
“Our goal this year was to break that hurdle for a D-10 title,” Rudge related. “Now we’re gonna enjoy this and get ready for the state playoffs. ... We’re gonna enjoy it, but we think we have a shot ... and that’s what we’re focusing on right now.”