FRANKLIN — Mercer scored three times in the final 27 minutes of play Tuesday in the first round of the PIAA class A soccer playoffs, erasing a 1-0 halftime deficit on the way to a 3-1 victory over West Branch.
Trinity Prestash gave the Lady Warriors a lead when she muscled past a Lady Mustang defender and got the ball by Mercer keeper Bailey Grossman with 7:30 left in the first half.
The score remained that way until Mercer’s Julia Balaski got the equalizer at 53:28. The Lady Mustangs added another a little over three minutes later after a West Branch miscommunication in the box before putting things away with 8:06 left to play.
“We sat back a little bit and they really pressured at us,” West Branch head coach Angie Fenush said about the second half. “They’re a very patient team. They stuck to their game plan.
“And then there was some inexperience. Inexperience on my part tactically, and we had a little miscommunication on the field and emotions kind of got the best of us. They had seven seniors and had a little more calmness about them. We broke down and that’s the way the last 20 minutes went.”
Mercer’s first goal came after a corner kick and some tense moments with the ball bouncing around in the Lady Warrior box before Balaski was able to boot it by Betts.
“Our girls played a good, clean game,” Fenush said. “They (Mustangs) were a little overaggressive and that first goal kind of happened because we were getting bullied around in the box.”
West Branch continued having issues in front of its own net and paid for it when a Lady Warrior defender tried to clear the ball but kicked it to Sarah Coryea, who gave Mercer the lead with 23:17 left to play.
“We talked about communication being key all season, but a lot of little things led to that. That wasn’t the defining moment,” Fenush said. “That happens, and we were still able to rally back a little bit. But you have to communicate well and that’s something we will go into next year really focusing on.”
Peyton Miller made it 3-1 with 8:06 to play and the Lady Warriors quickly countered with a run back into the Mercer end, just missing scoring their second goal at 6:45 to go.
“I think they were celebrating a little bit and we made another run at it, but it was a little too late,” Fenush said.
“Us coaches will eat this loss. We were leading 1-0 at halftime. The team got us there. What could we have done better? That’s something that we’ll work on. It starts now. We go back to the drawing board.”
West Branch finished the season in which it won the first District 6 title in program history with a record of 16-5-1. The Lady Warriors do not have a senior on the team.
“This team has faced a bunch of adversity and challenges this year, and they overcame every single one of them,” Fenush said. “To me, that makes the best group of teammates. They faced something every single day and they accomplished what they did despite all that was thrown at them.
“It (the loss) hurts right now. I called this year’s team, ‘the little team that could.’ We said how talented the girls were at the beginning of the year and it would come down to how hard they wanted to work. They proved to us they wanted to work hard.
“Our hearts go out to this team, but more than anything we are extremely proud of the work they have put in. We told them to walk off the field with their heads held high.”
Mercer 3, West Branch 1
1. Trinity Prestash, WB, 32:30.
2. Julia Balaski, M, 53:28.
3. Sarah Coryea, M, 56:43.
4. Peyton Miller, M, 71:54.
Shots: West Branch 3, Mercer 12.
Saves: West Branch (Sarah Betts) 9, Mercer (Bailey Grossman) 2.
Corner kicks: West Branch 1, Mercer 2.