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PIAA Girls Soccer

PIAA Girls Soccer: Halle Engle's golden goal gives Mechanicsburg 3-2 win over St. Hubert

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Mechanicsburg Greencastle 6

Mechanicsburg's Halle Engle, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during the second half in a District 3 Class 3A semifinal game against Greencastle at Kaley Field Greencastle.

The Wildcats defeated the Bambies 3-2 in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A girls soccer playoffs.

With the clock ticking toward two minutes remaining in the second overtime in Tuesday’s PIAA Class 3A opener at Northside Elementary, Mechanicsburg’s Halle Engle curled to her left and found space behind the St. Hubert defense. Engle dribbled once before placing a shot on goal that slipped through the Bambies’ goalkeeper, and the Wildcats slipped through a back-and-forth state-playoff opener, advancing to the quarterfinals for the second straight season.

Mechanicsburg (18-3-2), the District 3 champion, draws WPIAL runner-up Plum in the Saturday’s quarterfinal at a site and time to be determined. The Mustangs knocked off Hollidaysburg 3-1 in the first round Tuesday while the Wildcats authored their dramatic opening-round victory.

“It was definitely a relief to get that goal,” Engle said, “but we’ve been in this situation, and in my past four years, I’ve been in that situation countless times. I know how to handle it with my team, and I think we did well to just finish it out.”

Engle had scored from almost the exact same spot on the Northside grass, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute. But three-sport standout Gianna Grassifulli brought the counter-punch for St. Hubert (8-6-2), surging behind the Mechanicsburg back line and punching in the equalizer 31 seconds later.

“Earlier in our season, we kind of had to learn that,” Bambies coach Jeanette Graziosi-Hibbs said of her team’s ability to answer adversity, “and we needed to make sure that we believed in ourselves and had the confidence. I think we showed that tonight.”

St. Hubert, an all-girls school in the Philadelphia Catholic league, brought belief and confidence to the opening kick Tuesday, controlling the first 2:19 of play in a wave of momentum that crested with a goal from Madison Marron, who pushed through a pair of Mechanicsburg defenders and punched a shot past Wildcat goalkeeper Ari Frey (nine saves).

“We sat back a little at the start,” said Mechanicsburg coach Mike O’Brien. “That wasn’t our intention. We said to set the tone. They just traveled all this way. They’re a Philly team. They’re going to be athletic. They’re going to be fast. We knew they had Gianna up top, who’s a handful. We knew that coming in. Maybe their speed and athleticism caught us by surprise.”

Throughout the half, the Wildcats adjusted, and with 5:43 to play before the break, Alayna Williams netted the game-tying goal, capping a string of possession in the Bambies’ third of the field.

“We’re down in a state playoff game, 1-0,” O’Brien said, “on your home field two minutes into a game. You could easily just panic, panic, panic. And we did panic, but we regrouped.”

After the teams traded second-half goals, and their first-round contest marched toward overtime. Grassifulli continued to threaten the Wildcats, sending a shot just over the Mechanicsburg crossbar. In the first overtime, she beat a pair of defenders and laced a shot on goal.

But at the other end, the Wildcats kept chipping away with chances against goalkeeper Gabrielle Becker, who rotated in for Molly Hauser at the start of the second half.

“We were talking,” O’Brien said of his team, “preaching in the second half and the overtime, ‘Find a way to serve the ball. Serve the ball. Just dump it down there. They don’t want the ball down there.’ We kept doing that, and we had four or five chances there at the end. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it got the job done.”

Other scores

Mars 2, Red Land 0: The two-time defending state champions continued their state-playoff unbeaten streak, ending the Patriots’ season.

Class 4A

Downingtown East 3, Carlisle 0: The Thundering Herd’s season ended with its first state-playoff appearance since 2012.

Class 2A

Trinity 3, Bedford 2 (OT): Frances Maury's golden goal in the 85th minute gave the Shamrocks the win and a quarterfinal date with WPIAL champion Avonworth Saturday at a site and time to be determined. Jess Knaub scored both goals in regulation for Trinity (17-4-1) and assisted on the game-winning goal. 

Tim Gross is the sports editor at The Sentinel and cumberlink.com. Email him at tgross@cumberlink.com and follow him on Twitter at: @ByTimGross

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