Planets shut out Red Land

Defending champs off and running in PIAA girls soccer

November 10, 2021 Cranberry Local Sports

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ADAMS TWP — When you're as balanced a girls soccer team as Mars is, you can afford to miss on some chances. It's just not something Planets coach Blair Gerlach prefers to happen.

Still, his two-time defending state-champion squad found its way past Red Land (13-8-1) Tuesday night at the Mars Athletic Complex, beating the visitors, 2-0, and moving on to the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 3A playoffs.

“It's like starting over,” Gerlach said of opening the state playoffs. “You get to a high, you're playing in a championship game, and then all of a sudden you're back into the first round of a whole other tournament. You got to put one to bed and now you've got to start all over again. ... Having to find that second wind for this second tournament is kind of the trick.”

The Planets (17-0-1) dominated much of the contest. They had 13 shots, eight of which were on target. The Patriots' offense consisted of a lone shot by sophomore Jordan Schwab, which didn't even come until the 71st minute of play.

“We didn't start very sharp,” Gerlach said. “We created a ton of chances, (but) just didn't put the ball away. ... You hope you get (it) out of your system now.”

Mars' initial chance came three minutes in, in the form of its first of nine corner kicks. Sophomore Addison Girdwood's boot was too high for junior Piper Coffield to do anything with.

The former was also the catalyst on the team's next pair of scoring threats. She dished the ball to senior Aly Cooper a minute and a half later, but Cooper's shot was palmed by Red Land keeper Hannah Cline. Girdwood's corner found the foot of Cooper again in the ninth minute, but the try was cleared shy of the goal-line by the Patriots' Lily Nagy.

“We know the history of their program,” Red Land coach Jamie Miller said. “We came in here with an attitude of, we have to fight and we have to compete with them.”

The teams would go into the intermission without yet denting the scoreboard.

“When you take a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride and show up at somebody else's field, you hope you bring some energy,” Gerlach said of the away team. “(Red Land) stayed in it by working hard. They were here for a reason.”

Sandwiched between a pair of Mars point-black headers that snuck just outside the poles shortly out of the break, Cooper had another effort blocked by Nagy early in the second half.

Then, in the 45th minute, Girdwood fired a shot from the left of the Pats' net. It rose over Cline's head and into the top right corner.

“Being here the past few years has definitely helped us,” Girdwood said. “Even though we have people who haven't really played in big games like this, I think the atmosphere and some of the older players help calm everyone down.

“We all expect something. We all want something. We all kind of put pressure on ourselves to play well and play our best.”

Coffield's marker in the 70th minute all but iced the matchup.

After allowing Plum to score in the WPIAL final, the Planets returned to usual form, notching their 16th clean sheet of the campaign.

“They (Mars) just smother you with pressure the entire time,” Miller said. “They run at you and run at you.

“I would fully expect (Mars) to win the state championship. They're loaded.”

The Planets will get Montour — a 10-2 winner over Bradford on Tuesday — on Saturday in a rematch of the WPIAL Class 3A semifinal, which Mars won, 1-0.

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Brendan Howe

Brendan Howe