By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
NESHANNOCK TWP. — Rocker Bob Seger years ago penned a poem that included the line, “ ... I’m older now, but still runnin’ against the wind ... ”
That’s how it must have seemed Saturday afternoon for the Hickory High girls’ soccer team.
The Lady Hornets were unable to hurdle a strong 2nd-half headwind in their PIAA Class AA quarterfinal-round match with WPIAL champion Central Valley.
With approximately 7 minutes remaining in regulation, Carolina Lucci launched the lone goal after taking Hannah O’Connor’s pass. From the left wing O’Connor fed Lucci, who laid in her shot to the far right post past diving Hickory goalkeeper Morgan McBride with 7:07 left, vaulting Valley (21-0) to victory.
“It was very difficult conditions with the wind. I don’t think either team was able to play the way they wanted to play. It was gonna take a break,” 5th-year Central Valley Coach Mark Perry assessed. “For us, the key was to be zero-zero at the half. (The Lady Hornets) had the (1st-half) wind, and we knew we were gonna have to be a little defensive.
“At half, we felt pretty good, because we were gonna have the (2nd-half) wind,” Perry continued. “But as the half went on we were missing chances and they defended very well. You get late in the game and one break ... we got the break.”
“The margin of error at this level is so small. Teams are so even,” began Hickory Head Coach B.J. Rudge. “You start to sit there and compare teams, and there isn’t much of a difference that separates them.
“That’s what we talked about. Sometimes you need a little bit of a bounce, a little luck there,” Rudge continued, noting, “but you’ve gotta play the full eighty (minutes). And I believe we did that, but the ball just didn’t roll in our favor, like it did against Moon (in a 1-0 PIAA opening-round win) like it did a couple days ago.”
Rudge concurred with Perry regarding blustery Bob Bleggi Stadium’s conditions during the noon-time matinee at Neshannock High.
“I would say it does have a factor. The girls have to clear the ball out (of their defensive zone), then run against the wind. You know,” Rudge related, “the wind didn’t cause the goal, but I think there was a part of that game where it was harder trying to get out of our defensive half (of the field), and the wind did have a factor in that.
“But that’s not taking anything away from Central Valley,” Rudge emphasized. “They’re a phenomenal team, well coached, and I’m proud of that.”
Not unlike Hickory (19-2-1), Central Valley is enjoying a banner season.
“We lost in the (state) semifinals two years ago, we lost to Villa Joseph out of Philly,” Perry recalled. “This year we won our district (7), which is the first time — the school’s only been in existence for four years.
“We’re having a great season, and we have a young team. We start only two seniors ... but our two seniors are pretty good,” Perry continued, noting, “We’re two steps away. If Hopewell wins (against Dallas Area), it would be the fourth time we’ve played them (including a 2-1 WPIAL title tilt win). They’re our biggest rival.”
Summarizing the season, which included the program’s first District 10 championship as well as 1st PIAA playoffs win, Rudge related,
“For me, I’m still trying to absorb all that we’ve accomplished. And that’s what I tried to emphasize to them, I said, ‘At this point, it’s hard to recognize that.’ Because our goal, we waned to keep moving. But in time, they’re gonna look back and say, ‘Wow, we won a district championship for the first time, we won a state playoff (match) for the first time. We took Central Valley to the last (7) minutes, being tied.’
“That’s what I want them to recognize, that, look, be proud of what you’ve accomplished, but recognize what it took to get here,” Rudge continued. “And realize, if you want to keep moving to that next stage, it’s gonna require a little bit more in the offseason, it’s gonna require a little bit more during the season. It’s gonna require a little more urgency, a little more of that fight.
“But I’m just extremely proud of the girls, what they’ve done,” Rudge related, “As a coach, I’m thankful for my staff and very humbled. What makes your job easy is when you come in day in and day out and the girls are going hard, they’ll jump on board with the vision that you have. The girls have done a great job.
“And my seniors (Sophia Fustos, Chelsea Panin and McBride). Sophia and Chelsea were in support roles ... and you watched the match and you saw what Morgan did. Morgan made some unbelievable saves, and that girl played with her whole heart. Like I told her, ‘Morgan, I know you wanted to keep playing, and that’s the hardest part, knowing your career’s over, but there’s nothing to be ahamed about; you were such an inspiration for this team, and I’m vey proud of what she’s done.
“I always dreamed as a player, but I had a career that was cut short by my ACL tears,” Rudge related. “I couldn’t move further along, so I got into coaching. And for me, I feel blessed. I feel like God’s given me a second opportunity to get involved in the sport that I love. And for me, being a person of faith, I give all the glory to God because He’s my inspiration.
“But beyond that, my inspiration if from the players. I’ve got a great supporting staff, from my coaches, Hickory’s administration’s wonderful, and the parents,” Rudge continued, concluding, “So, all in all it’s just a great position to be in as a coach blessed to do what he does, be involved with soccer.”
ä Greensburg Central Catholic 9, Wilmington 0 — At North Allegheny High School in Wexford, Penn State recruit Fran Crouse had a hat trick only 9 minutes into the match and the defending PIAA champion Lady Centurions (19-2) ousted the Lady Hounds (13-8-1) Saturday.
Crouse, who has over 200 career goals, finished the game with 3 goals and 3 assists. She assisted on 2 goals by Malea Fabean and a goal by Bailey Cartwright.
Fabean finished with a hat trick and Colby Crouse and Julia Valero had the other goals for GCC.
Wilmington, the defending District 10 champs, beat Sewickley Academy, 2-1, in overtime Tuesday for the school’s first-ever PIAA playoff win in soccer.
The Lady Hounds were led by senior Kyler Lum, a YSU recruit who also kicked for the Wilmington football team the past two seasons.