WEXFORD — Upper St. Clair brought a lot of talent, especially on offense, into Saturday's WPIAL Class 4A girls soccer semifinal against Seneca Valley.
It was when the top-seeded Raiders began to focus on their own playmakers, however, that the outcome was decided.
SV received second-half goals from Mia Zec (45th minute) and Lauren Sileo (50th) to knock off the Panthers, 2-0, at North Allegheny's Newman Stadium.
“I thought we respected them a little too much in the first half,” said Raiders' coach Mark Perry. “We were so concerned with their offense, we told our girls at halftime, 'Play your game. Let's attack.'
“We hit the reset button.”
SV (15-2) will meet Peters Township (16-3), which defeated Norwin 1-0, in the championship game at Highmark Stadium at a time and date to be determined.
SV's first goal displayed the Raiders' athletic prowess, thanks to three players.
Senior midfielder Ashley Rea was near the left edge of the box when she got off a centering pass a few feet above the ground. Lauren Sileo dove parallel to the turf to head the ball toward USC's net. The ball smacked off the crossbar and came back out onto the field of play, where Zec was waiting. She sent a shot past Panther keeper Juliana Gianni.
Less than six minutes later, Sileo got another chance. Her header off a corner kick taken by Julia Redilla from the left of the net was true and SV had its decisive 2-0 edge.
Last year, the Panthers ended SV's season by the same score in a WPIAL first-round playoff.
“We lost today to a really good team,” said USC coach David Gray. “I thought we played really well, but Seneca is well-coached and they are a team that is well-organized.”
All that was left for the Raiders was to keep the Panther offense at bay, which is easier said than done. USC features senior forward Landy Mertz, who entered the game with 20 goals and 18 assists this season.
But the Raiders never did allow the Panthers to close the gap. A free kick from 35 yards was headed by Veronica Gibbons in the 63rd minute, but the ball sailed wide of the net. Three late corner kicks by the Panthers were successfully defended by SV, which had a defense led by starters Madeline Neuschwander, Anna Takac, Ally Smith and Lindsey Burkhiser.
“We changed formations three times in the final 20 minutes,” said Gray. “We were trying to get more pressure up front and we felt that if we could score a goal, we'd be right back in it. But Seneca was very strong defensively.”
The first half, though scoreless, featured scoring chances from both teams.
In the 22nd minute, Redilla's corner kick from the right side sailed over a crowd of players in front of USC's net. The ball was sent back toward the net and headed by Rea, but Natalie Gilbert, who was standing to the right of Gianni, blocked the ball and gave the Panthers a chance to regroup by booting it upfield.
Six minutes later, USC's Jane Madson took control of the ball amid a scrum of players in front of SV's net. Her shot headed toward the left side of the goal and appeared to touch the goal-line, but Takac retrieved the ball just before it crossed.
“There may have been some question there if that was a goal or not,” Gray said, “but it is what it is.”
Later in the half, the Raiders defended a pair of corner kicks, but Mertz possessed the ball and challenged goalkeeperMary Sinan with a shot from the left of the net. Sinan dove to her left to keep the game scoreless.
“I thought the first half was very even, but you often get that when two good teams are playing,” Perry said. “Both teams had to come off line to keep the game scoreless.”
Sinan made six saves for the win while Gianni had five saves for the Panthers (13-4).