Freedom tops Shady Side Academy in double overtime to reach PIAA girls soccer final
Michaela Watkins saw 20 yards of turf and a goalie between her and a ticket to Hershey.
Freedom’s senior forward tapped the ball forward with a Shady Side Academy defender in close pursuit and unloaded a shot into the net for a 3-2 victory.
That anyone broke free for an open shot wasn’t a surprise to Watkins — she thought it was only a matter of time until her team would score in double overtime.
“The whole overtime was really nerve-racking, but I knew that if we just fought through, we’d get it because we have a really good offense,” Watkins said. “I knew we had a chance, because we played well all game. This feels amazing.”
The double overtime score in the PIAA Class A semifinals earned Freedom its first appearance in a girls soccer state championship game and knocked out the defending champion Indians. Freedom will play Southern Columbia at 11 a.m. Friday at Hersheypark Stadium.
The game-winning goal was Watkins’ second of the game. She opened the scoring six minutes into the first half by weaving between two defenders in the box to get off a shot to the corner of the net.
Freedom coach Colin Williams told his players before the game they had to score first.
“We’re making history, and it’s tremendous for the girls,” Williams said. “It was a great game I thought. Overall, we might have had a little bit of an edge, but they came back at us.”
Freedom had a one-goal lead in the first and second halves, but Shady Side Academy responded each time.
Melissa Riggins scored the Indians’ first goal. Sophia McMahon’s goal with five minutes left in regulation sent the game to overtime. Freedom’s Myla Sharpless also scored in the second half.
“That’s a testament really to the way they’ve played all season,” Shady Side Academy coach Mary Lynch said. “I was so proud of them after going down 1-0 and fought back to tie it. We went down 2-1 and continued to fight and play hard to tie it. We asked them at the beginning of the game to leave everything on the field, and they certainly did that tonight.”
Shady Side Academy lost its bid for a third consecutive state championship game appearance. The Indians lost to Fairfield in 2016 and beat Camp Hill in 2017.
“This is definitely one of the most talented, hard-working groups I’ve ever coached, and I’m going to miss these seniors next year,” Lynch said. “They have such strong leadership, great work ethic and (are) really awesome kids.”
Each coach praised their goalkeeper’s performances after they combined for 23 saves.
Shady Side Academy goalie Molly Skvorak made a diving save to barely deflect a shot on goal out of bounds to keep Freedom from scoring twice in the first half and also shut down several chances late in the second half.
Freedom’s Kassandra DePoppe made three diving saves before allowing a goal and stood tall in overtime during two consecutive corner kicks that were difficult to clear.
“Both goalkeepers played really well and kept everything tight,” Williams said. “We’re two big goal scoring teams, and they did well. They had strong, good hands, and they made this game great, I thought.”
Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer.