WEXFORD — Earlier this season, Mars' girls soccer team survived a meeting with Section 1 foe Hampton by outscoring the Talbots, 4-3.
Saturday's rematch in a WPIAL Class 3A semifinal was close to being the same type of game, according to Planets' coach Blair Gerlach.
“Both teams found a way to finish in that (first) game,” he said. “Neither team did well at finishing today.”
That is, except for sophomore midfielder Ellie Coffield's goal in the 32nd minute that lifted Mars to a 1-0 win at North Allegheny's Newman Stadium.
The sequence had Coffield on the back side of a scoring chance for the Planets. Forward Taylor Hamlett booted an entry pass toward Hampton's net from the right side. The ball was deflected by Jenna Jedry, but had enough on it to carry to the left side of the net where Coffield was waiting. Her shot sailed past keeper Sophia Kelly.
“We did enough to win today,” said Gerlach.
All three of the Planets' victories over the Talbots this season have come by a single goal. Mars also prevailed 1-0 in the regular-season finale.
“We had a feeling this would be a tough game,” said Planets' goalkeeper Claire Valentine, who earned the shutout with four saves. “We know Hampton well and they always play with a lot of emotion against us. They're gunning for us.”
Mars, the No. 1 seed, will play against Oakland Catholic (17-1), which won a 1-0 decision over South Fayette, for the WPIAL title at Highmark Stadium at a time and date to be determined.
Five minutes after Coffield's goal, the Talbots seemed primed to tie the game.
The Planets were whistled for a handball in the box and Hampton's Courtney Coholich stepped up to take the penalty kick. Her attempt was blocked by Valentine to the keeper's left. The ball bounced just to the right of the net and Valerie Fischer's rebound chance was just wide of the net.
“We work on penalty kicks in practice,” Valentine said, “but when it comes to which way I dive, it's just a gut feeling.”
“Claire is really good,” said Gerlach. “Making a big save like that, that's why she gets the accolades she does.”
Shortly after making the save, Valentine and her teammates prepared to defend a corner kick. The ball found Logan Nicklas, whose shot was deflected by Mars' Stephanie Cimini, then smacked off the left post.
It was one of five corner kicks successfully turned away by the Planets.
“Hampton used the same direct offense we'd seen this season,” Valentine said. “They are really fast and they use it to their advantage.”
The Planets had chances to increase their lead. Coffield's free kick was tipped over the crossbar by a leaping Kelly in the 56th minute.
Caroline Wroblewski's shot in the 66th minute hit the crossbar, but with Mars' defense and Valentine remaining sharp, the 1-0 lead held up.
Kelly ended the game with eight saves.
Getting past the Talbots (16-5) is not something Gerlach takes for granted.
“They are really athletic and are really good in the air,” he said. “A lot of teams have one or two girls who are really good with headers. Hampton has five or six. That's powerful in girls soccer.”