MARS – Jeff Thomas usually is a man of few words.
The Bedford girls soccer coach was left nearly speechless on Tuesday when he saw the snowy field conditions at Mars High School before the Bisons’ PIAA Class AA semifinal.
“We couldn’t even get a broom to brush the lines off,” Thomas uttered after WPIAL champion North Catholic notched a pair of second-half goals and ousted District 5-6 champion Bedford from the playoffs, ending another Bisons season a game short of the championship round, 2-0.
Bedford (14-1) has played in three semifinal-round games in the past four seasons under Thomas, losing all but one in 2018, when the Bisons won a state title.
“I’ve never had a team that’s played in a game like this,” Thomas said. “With what was at stake and having to play through this, it was really tough. It just took us completely out of our game.”
Thomas said that when Bedford’s bus arrived at the Butler County school in the afternoon, his concerns mainly were with the cold, windy conditions.
“It was a green field when we got here,” he said. “When we came out of the locker room, it was white.”
And it got whiter as time went on, making playing conditions nearly impossible to navigate in the second half.
North Catholic (15-2-1) advances to the PIAA championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium against District 4 champion Bloomsburg, which defeated District 11 champ Allentown Central Catholic 1-0 Tuesday.
The teams struggled to get traction in the slippery conditions after a snow storm passed through the area about an hour before the start of the game.
Snow squalls lingered throughout the contest, and by the end, several inches had fallen.
“It was very tough. I couldn’t see half the time,” said Bedford goalkeeper Lindsay Mowry, who came in having registered 56 career shutouts, including 12 this season. “It was blowing right in my face.”
Georgia State commit Jayden Sharpless scored for North Catholic at 36 minutes, 12 seconds to break the ice after the teams had played to a scoreless halftime tie.
Tori Michalski’s goal with 42.4 seconds left iced the victory for the Trojans, who handed Bedford its first loss. The Bisons came in having outscored their opponents 108-2 this season.
“These are some of the toughest conditions you can have for a soccer game,” North Catholic coach Emily Kerr said. “You could barely see sometimes, but they did a wonderful job.”
Players spun their way around the field as the temperature hovered around 30 degrees throughout. The second half was an exercise in patience, both teams angling for position as the clock kept ticking.
Other than the goals put up by North Catholic, scoring opportunities were rare.
Mowry said Bedford’s players didn’t easily rattle in the unusual setting.
“We didn’t want it to get to us,” she said, “and we didn’t let it get to us mentally. But they adapted to it better than we did, and they controlled the ball better on the turf than we did. They were very good.”
North Catholic’s Grace Billman misfired on a pair of first-half shots that nearly found the net, including a drive from the right corner at the 22:30 mark that hit the left post and bounded back onto the field.
Nearly four minutes later, the Trojans were blunted on another scoring opportunity when Bedford’s Ava Sipes blocked Michalski’s shot in front of the net.
Bedford’s best chances came on a free kick in the first half by Sydney Taracatac that sailed squarely into the hands of North Catholic goalkeeper Andrea Bean and when Grace Sarver couldn’t find the handle on a loose ball in close just after the start of the second half.
“We just tried to keep blasting forward and hoping to win the 50-50 balls and connect a couple passes on the other side of it,” Thomas said.
As Bedford’s players tried to come to terms with their season’s end, Thomas glanced over his shoulder and shook his head.
“All you have to do is look at them and you can pretty much tell they’re hurting,” he said. “But I’m going to tell them I’m proud of them. With the messed-up 2020 we’re having, they made the most of what they could make out of it. In my opinion, they’re still one of the best teams in the state.”
Seniors Jordan Brown, Robyn Casalena, Abby Donaldson, Mowry and Allison Seager compiled a 80-3-1 record over four seasons, claiming four district and Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference titles. The group went 8-3 in the state playoffs. Brown and Mowry played a part in 56 shutouts.