COLLIER TWP — The frustration brewing within Seneca Valley’s girls soccer team dissipated with just one boot from Kelsey O’Connor.
The junior forward sent a shot past Bethel Park goalkeeper Tara Nath with just over 11 minutes remaining in the second overtime, giving the Raiders a 1-0 victory in a PIAA Class AAA first-round playoff at Chartiers Valley High School Tuesday night.
“There were a lot of calls that seemed to go Bethel’s way tonight,” said Seneca Valley coach Dave Sylvester. “From where I was on the sideline, I didn’t get a good look at a lot of the plays, but I know our girls were getting frustrated with it.”
“This was the kind of game I expected,” said Bethel Park coach Jonathan Gentile. “Both teams were evenly matched. Seneca was just able to find the back of the net.”
The win advanced the Raiders to the state quarterfinals where, in a rematch of the WPIAL title match played earlier this month, Seneca Valley was scheduled to face Peters Township Saturday at Chartiers Valley.
The Raiders and Black Hawks (18-4-1) kept each other scoreless for nearly 99 minutes Tuesday before O’Connor’s score. She controlled the ball 30 yards from the net and picked up just enough speed to avoid two defenders to her left before putting her foot into the game-winner.
“This is definitely the biggest goal I’ve scored,” said O’Connor, who became a full-time starter this season. “We’ve come so far and with the way we played tonight, I felt that we deserved to move on. To score the goal that helps us do that, it feels awesome.”
Nath made nine saves in the game. She and senior Laura Page helped the Black Hawks surrender just eight goals in 22 games entering the clash with Seneca Valley.
“Laura was our keeper at the start of the season and Tara was a forward,” said Gentile. “Then Laura goes down with a knee injury and Tara stepped in and did a great job for us. She was phenomenal tonight, was aggressive and took a lot of scoring opportunities away from Seneca.”
The Black Hawks were awarded several free kicks in the first half deep in the Raiders’ end. But in each instance, Seneca’s defense and goalkeeper Jessica Neill turned Bethel Park away empty-handed.
Neill tallied five saves and posted her fourth consecutive postseason shutout, a total of 339 minutes without giving up a goal.
“(Sophomore defender) Lexus Lambert saved us a couple of times tonight,” said Sylvester. “She played a great game.”
Bethel Park earned a state playoff berth by defeating Upper St. Clair 1-0 in the WPIAL consolation game last Wednesday.