By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
HEPBURNVILLE — Emily Dower scored late in the first half, and Berwick fended off several quality Athens scoring opportunities over the 45-plus minutes to hold on for a 1-0 win here on a cold and rainy Tuesday night in the opening round of the PIAA, Class AAA playoffs at the Balls Mills Soccer Complex.
“Sometimes the game is cruel, and tonight it was just that,” said Athens coach Rich Pitts.
“It had the same feel as last year’s state game,” he noted. “We just couldn’t put a ball in the net, and had some absolutely brilliant chances to put balls away.
“Sometimes the game doesn’t go your way. but one game doesn’t define who we are. It doesn’t define our season,” he continued. “I don’t think a lot of people gave us a snowball’s chance to get to this game, but the girls believed in themselves, and we believed in them.
“It doesn’t feel good, especially for the seniors, but that senior group walks out of here with 61 wins, four league titles, and two District 4 titles,” he added. “They’ve accomplished things no other group of seniors can say they’ve done at Athens.”
The Lady Wildcats also dropped a 1-0 decision to Scranton Prep last year in the opening round of the state playoffs.
Athens had a pair of good opportunities to score in the opening five minutes of the game, but junior Hannah Blackman shot went wide into the side of the net, and senior Abby Sindoni couldn’t get a shot off in front of the net after settling a corner kick.
The Lady Wildcats continued to pressure the Lady Bulldogs in the first half, but with 5:15 remaining, Dower re-directing a centering pass toward the far post and just out of the reach of a diving Athens keeper, senior Madisyn Joslyn.
“The weather is the weather … it was a little slithery ball that got through,” said Pitts. “We just misplayed it, (Dower) got a foot on it, and it’s in the back of the net.”
Athens outshot Berwick 10-6 in the contest, and had a 6-2 edge in corner kicks.
Joslyn recorded five saves in net for the Lady Wildcats, who finish the season at 15-3-2.
The Lady Wildcats will graduate eight seniors in Haley Chambers, Bailey Dakos, Joslyn, Krysta Manning, Sam Markle, Avery Priester, Maddie Schultz, and Sindoni.
“That senior group is the group that came in with me when I first started coaching here, so they hold a little bit of a special place in my heart,” said Pitts.
“The things they’ve done as a group are absolutely amazing. They can walk away knowing they did more than any other senior group has in the history of the school,” he added.
Athens will return just three juniors, including Emma Roe and Blackman, but have a large group of sophomores and freshmen, and some re-enforcements from the junior high program as well.
“Our junior group is small, but we have Emma (Roe), Hannah (Blackman), (Hannah) Walker back, we have some girls sitting on the bench, and we have some talent coming up from the junior high team,” said Pitts.
“We’ll be a younger team next year, but I always like us,” he added.
IN PHOTO 1: Athens junior Hannah Blackman. ... PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.
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