HAMPTON TWP — Nothing his extremely young Mars girls soccer team does these days surprises coach Blair Gerlach.
“I’m going to stop saying I’m surprised by them,” Gerlach said, “and start saying I’m proud of them.”
There was a lot to be proud of for the Planets and their coach in a 4-1 win over Franklin Regional Thursday night in the WPIAL 3A quarterfinals at Hampton.
Mars (15-1) was patient, skilled and had a killer instinct against a team it was very familiar with.
The Planets beat their section foe twice this season before this playoff matchup, both times by a 4-0 score.
Franklin Regional (11-6-1) took another tact against Mars this time around, playing with four defenders in the back and playing a compact defense.
“The game plan was to try to limit their scoring opportunities,” said Franklin Regional coach Rich Garland. “But you have to give Mars credit. They know how to play and they know how to attack a goal. It was bound to happen at some point. We were just hoping to lessen the number of shots and maybe squeak one out.
“It didn’t work,” Garland added.
That’s because Mars wasn’t going to press the issue and kept its poise.
The Planets had a couple of early chances that went high and wide, but in the 14th minute, sophomore Taylor Hamlett scored on a header off a pass from freshman Ellie Coffield.
“I think it’s a testament to them in saying they didn’t need to win the game in the first 10 minutes. They needed to win the game in 80 minutes,” Gerlach said. “If you start pushing, pushing, pushing too hard at the beginning, you get frustrated quicker and that’s just a snowball you don’t want to deal with.
“The idea,” Gerlach added, “was to just not flip out.”
Mars added its second goal off the toe of Coffield just five minutes later and added a third score before the half when freshman Caroline Wroblewski found the net in the 38th minute.
Franklin Regional became the first WPIAL 3A team to score against the Planets this season when Abby Albright punched a penalty kick into the bottom right of the net.
Gerlach was pleased the Planets gave up a goal.
“The monkey’s off the back finally now; we gave up a goal,” Gerlach said. “It’s the best thing that could have happened because you get these streaks and everyone’s talking about the streak and it’s not about the streak. It’s about just winning the game.”
Mars has still only given up seven goals in 16 games.
The Planets responded quickly to the Franklin Regional goal. Wroblewski scored her second goal of the game off an assist by Hamlett just two minutes after the penalty kick to put the lead back to three.
Mars will play South Park Monday in the semifinals at a site and time to be determined.
“I’m really pleased for as young as we are, we’re where we are,” Gerlach said.