Oakland Catholic girls edge Mars in overtime to claim 1st WPIAL championship
For Oakland Catholic’s Caitlyn Berl, Friday’s WPIAL Class AAA girls soccer championship game with Mars went from a nail-biter to a nail-breaker.
It was midway through the first overtime, and Berl, a junior middle fielder, lined up for a corner kick with the two teams deadlocked in a scoreless tie. When she prepared for the kick, she had 10 perfectly manicured nails that rose at least an inch above her fingers -- not exactly the prototypical look for a soccer player.
Moments later, Berl had just nine fingernails left.
Berl sent her kick into a scrum in front of the net, where it caromed off of teammate Anna Sproule’s knee and into the net as Oakland Catholic shocked nationally-ranked Mars, 1-0, to claim the first WPIAL title in school history. Oakland Catholic improved to 18-1, while Mars lost for the first time this season and fell to 18-1. Both teams begin play in the PIAA tournament on Tuesday.
Following the medal ceremony, Berl held up her fingers to show her teammates her nine remaining nails, the lone missing being her right pinky.
A casualty of the game?
“No, I lost it in the celebration,” Berl said with a laugh.
That was the least of Berl’s concerns as she and her teammates stunned a heavily-favored Mars team making its eighth appearance in a WPIAL title game and attempting to win its fifth title in the last eight years. The Planets entered the game ranked No. 24 in the nation by the USA Today.
None of that phased Oakland Catholic.
“We knew what we were up against,” Oakland Catholic coach Jim Earle said. “To be honest, I think there was more pressure on them as the favorite than there was on us. Our players were very calm and relaxed coming in, and they played that way.”
“We had nothing to lose,” said Sproule, whose game-winner was her 10th goal of the season. “We came in as the underdog, which is not usually the case, and we liked it.”
Considering each team had allowed single-digits in goals against this season, the game being low-scoring was expected. However, what was unexpected was the fact that Mars dominated much of the play, particularly in the second half, but couldn’t put Oakland Catholic away.
That came back to haunt the Planets.
Midway through overtime, Oakland Catholic’s Hannah Henn out-raced a defender to the ball along the far sideline to force a corner kick opportunity. Berl then dropped her kick into the scrum, where Mars keeper Claire Valentine attempted to knock the ball away from goal mouth. Sproule crashed the net and lifted her knee toward her chest, re-directing the ball into the goal to end the game, leaving Mars stunned.
“Before the kick I was praying, “Please ...,” Sproule said. “I wanted to try and get my head on it. Somehow I got my leg on it; I have no idea how.”
“I think I’m still in shock,” Berl said.
For Earle, the win was a vindication of what he has preached to his team all season.
“I always tell them not to be concerned with who we are playing,” Earle said. “Just play the best you can play and try to play the perfect game. Of course, the perfect game is impossible, but if you strive for that, if you stay relaxed and poised, good things will happen. Mars is a great team, and I’m sure most people felt they were the favorite to win. But our team believed in themselves and look what happened.”