Lacrosse: Late rally boosts Pine-Richland girls to first WPIAL title

Written by Joe Koch on .

Trailing by two goals with less than five minutes remaining in the second half of this past Thursday's WPIAL 3A girls lacrosse championship game at Robert Morris, Pine-Richland coach Brittany Adams had no doubt that her team would find a way to rally past previously unbeaten Fox Chapel and earn a 12-11 overtime victory. The victory was the first girls lacrosse title in the school's history. Now, the focus turns to the PIAA Class 3A tournament and a first-round game at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday against District 3 runner-up Manheim Township at Hempfield High School.

"The girls have a lot of heart," Adams said of a victory capped by senior midfielder Caitlyn Byerly's free-position goal with 23 seconds left in overtime. "We've been in a situation where we've been down, and they don't lose a step. They stay focused, and they're ready to go. They just showed so much heart."

Fox Chapel appeared ready to win the first WPIAL title of its own as Foxes senior midfielder Meg McCrady -- the game's leading scorer with five goals -- and freshman attack Sloan Rost scored successive goals to give the Foxes an 11-9 lead with 6:13 left in the second half.

Byerly, who also was the starting point guard on the Rams' girls basketball team, displayed some blazing speed on a coast-to-coast goal that drew the Rams to within 11-10 with 2:44 left in the second half. Forty-one seconds later, the Rams drew even on Marina Miller's third goal of the evening.

But Fox Chapel gained possession as McCrady won the ensuing draw, and the Foxes displayed a patient offense designed to score the winning goal in the waning seconds.

The strategy didn't work. Still, Fox Chapel won the draw to begin overtime. But Rams' sophomore goalie Abigail Levier executed a clutch save with less than a minute left in the three-minute frame, and the Rams quickly raced down the field. With 26 seconds left, Byerly was fouled. Three seconds later, she successfully rifled a shot past Foxes' goalie Makenzie Miller for the game-winner.

"I was really nervous [on the game-winning free-position goal]," Byerly said. "I knew that was my opportunity to take it for my team. We had worked so hard during the season. This is my chance. We just had an amazing save [from goalie Abigail Levier]. I wanted to win this for my team because we deserve this."

Byerly then focused on the task at hand.

"Whenever I have the ball at the eight-meter [line], I try to get through the first defender and just shoot it," she said. "It was just straight shock [on making the winning goal]. I didn't know what to say. I just started crying my eyes out."

The victory avenged a 15-12 non-section loss the Rams suffered from the Foxes during the regular season. Both Adams and Byerly hoped Pine-Richland would see Fox Chapel again.

"Fox Chapel is a great competitor of ours," Adams said. "It was unfortunate when we played them last that we couldn't finish the game [because of weather]. We played enough of the game [where it was called] and it was a loss. It's been a long time to get back to [beating] Mt. Lebanon and Peters and Fox Chapel, in the finals and to be on top."

Byerly said the victory over the Foxes continued a trend where the Rams defeated three teams that had beaten them during the regular season: Fox Chapel, Peters Township and Mt. Lebanon.

"[The motivation was there to beat Fox Chapel] especially after we beat Peters Township after losing to them in the regular season," she said. "[We beat Peters Township] in the playoffs, and we wanted to beat Fox Chapel and take home the gold."

Byerly's game-winner was her third goal of the game. Senior attack Alexa Mellis had four goals, and junior midfielder Marina Miller added three.