St. Pius X freshman goalkeeper Emory Wegener already had a great game in regulation and 10 minutes of extra time, stopping numerous opportunities from a pressing Marist team in the second half of their GHSA Class AAAA girls soccer championship match at Five Star Stadium. But she saved her best for the penalty-kick shootout.
Marist, who had won the previous two Class AAAA championships, managed to make only one of five penalty kicks against Wegener. St. Pius, meanwhile, made two to earn the 1-0 victory and the championship.
St. Pius, who had moved up a class this year, got conversions from Nicole Rodriguez and Notre Dame signee Rachel Heard in winning their third straight championship and their sixth in the past seven years.
“I just went in and tried to do my job,” said Wegener, who just turned 15 a few weeks ago. “We all know that Marist is a great team and even though we don’t play them that often, we still consider them a big rival.
“When I stopped the first kick, I had confidence that my team would score, and I was able to get good reads on the other kicks. Beating Marist for a state championship obviously makes it even more special because we know they are a great team.”
Neither team had a serious scoring chance in the first half, but things got more interesting in the second half. Katie MacGinnitie of Marist had chances to score in the 53rd and 64th minutes, but Wegener was able to turn them away with excellent stops. Heard, who was playing defender, used her athleticism to thwart several other scoring opportunities from the War Eagles.
Meanwhile, the Marist defense did not let St. Pius get close to scoring until the 50th minute, when Caroline Orman had a decent look at a goal. Marist keeper Carlin Zaprowski was up to the challenge and was kept the shot out of the goal.
After two five-minute overtime periods did not yield any offense, St. Pius went up 1-0 in the second round of penalty kicks when Rodriguez converted her attempt. Kelsey Carrier answered for Marist to tie it at 1, but Heard scored the game winner as Marist was denied on its final two penalty kicks.
“We knew it would be a hard-fought defensive game, and when it got down to penalty kicks we had a lot of confidence,” said Heard, whose team had lost 2-1 to Marist earlier in the season. “Beating Marist for a state championship just makes my last high school game a little more special.”
St. Pius head coach Sara Geiger said the early loss to Marist never quite left the minds of her team.
“We don’t get to play Marist very often, so we were looking forward to playing them for a state championship, “Geiger said. “We learned from the first game that we had to be a little more of a physical team with them because I didn’t feel we were very tough in that game. This was a hard-fought battle all the way, and getting it to penalty kicks kind of shows that. We had a feeling that it was probably going to be Marist in the state championship game, and I am proud of the way we fought them all the way.”
-- John Kosater
ST. PIUS X (BOYS) 1, CROSS KEYS 0
St. Pius made a first-half goal stand up and took home yet another championship.
St. Pius (22-0-0) had won four of the previous six state titles in Class AAA before stepping up in classification this season. Cross Keys (15-3-1) was making its first championship game appearance.
It was the second time the two programs, who are separated by less than 4 miles in DeKalb County, had met this season. The Lions won the earlier game 2-0.
“That was a perfect season,” St. Pius head coach David O’Shea said. “We’ve won every single game that we’ve played this season, 22-0. You can’t ask for more than that.”
With a little more than half of the opening 40 minutes gone, St. Pius struck for the game’s only goal against the run of play. Senior midfielder Louie Aponte, a Georgia Southern signee, appeared to mishit a cross from 30 yards out, only to see his kick sail over the head of keeper Alexis Briceno, who got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out of the net.
“I knew they were going to have a man tight on me, so I was just trying to get space as much as I could,” Aponte said. “I saw some guys in the box, an open goal, and luckily the ball went in.”
The Lions seemed to settle in after their good fortune and outplay the Indians for the remainder of the first half to take the one goal advantage to the break.
Aponte had the best two chances to increase the lead early in the second half, but both of his shots, one off of his head, sailed just wide of the right post.
The Lions continued to control the contest until the match’s final minute when senior Felipe Lopez found space in the box and unleashed a left-footed shot that careened off the crossbar and out to preserve the championship for St. Pius.
-- Ryan Jordan
WESTMINSTER 3, BLESSED TRINITY 0
In the Class AAA girls final, Westminster exploded in the second half to pull away from Blessed Trinity.
The two Region 4-AAA rivals had split a pair of matches during the regular season, with Westminster winning the first contest 2-1 on the road before dropping the second at home 1-0.
All three Westminster goals came after halftime.
-- Ryan Jordan
HEBRON CHRISTIAN 1, FELLOWSHIP CHRISTIAN 0
The GHSA Class A girls championship match also went to penalty kicks, with Hebron Christian edging Fellowship Christian 4-3 in the shootout.
After making all six of its penalty kicks in its 3-2 shootout victory at FPD in Tuesday’s semifinals, Fellowship Christian fell short against a Hebron Christian squad that defeated Stratford 1-0 in the Lions’ semifinal contest.
The championship was the first in girls soccer for Hebron Christian.
-- John Kosater