Thomas gets Bedford girls into semifinals

MARS — A year ago, Bedford was eliminated from the PIAA Class 2A girls soccer playoffs by Mercyhurst Prep.

On Saturday, the Bisons returned the favor.

Amber Thomas’ second goal of the game proved the winner for Bedford in a 2-1 overtime victory over Mercyhurst Prep in a quarterfinals-round game at Mars High School.

“It’s just unreal,” Thomas said. “I don’t even know what to think right now.”

District 5-6 champion Bedford (20-0), which lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Erie-based Mercyhurst Prep in the 2017 semifinals round, advances to the current semis on Tuesday against WPIAL champion South Park (21-2) at a site to be determined.

Thomas shivered in the cold with excitement just minutes after taking a crossing pass from Jenna Brown and burying the game-winner in the right corner of the net past Mercyhurst Prep goalkeeper Ashley Van Damia with 8 minutes, 10 seconds left in OT.

“It’s just a great accomplishment,” Amber Thomas said of the victory. “We knew we were working hard last year, and we worked all year long to get back here again this year. We made it this far this year and we want to keep it going.”

Thomas, a senior with more than 100 goals and 100 assists in high school who remains an uncommitted college recruit, scored Bedford’s first goal on a first-half penalty kick with just 1:05 left before intermission to tie the score, 1-1.

Mercyhurst Prep (17-6), the District 10 champion, opened the scoring with 23:12 remaining in the first half on an unassisted goal by Yeshim Onipede, who also scored the game’s only goal last year in the semifinals victory against Bedford.

“It’s heartbreaking because we had a good game today,” Mercyhurst Prep coach Jamie Borowicz said. “We didn’t finish, and that was the difference.”

Both goalkeepers were stellar in protecting the net, notably in the second half, when Van Damia stopped successive point-blank shots by Bedford’s Kiley Horne and Robyn Casalena, and Bedford’s Lindsay Mowry registered a one-handed save on a shot by Mercyhurst Prep’s Kaitlyn Kneidinger.

“I wasn’t surprised how tough it was out there,” Bedford coach Jeff Thomas said. “I knew it was going to be like that.”

Amber Thomas’ game-winning goal was from a play that Thomas and Brown have worked on together for years.

“Jenna and I have great chemistry,” Amber Thomas said. “We’re best friends. I knew she could play the backside ball and I let her know I was there.”

It worked to perfection, and the game was over like that.

“I seriously thought last year that we should have beaten them,” Jeff Thomas said. “I even watched the game again before we came here.

“I just told the girls we’ve got to go up there and play our game. We’re a better team than they are. If we play the type of soccer we’re used to playing, which is to possess the ball and wait, we’ll get our opportunities.”

Bedford’s impressive run for a second consecutive season included a 4-2 victory over WPIAL runner-up Hopewell in the opening round of the state tournament.

The Bisons will look to reach the championship game for the first time in school history with a victory on Tuesday against another power in the WPIAL, where South Park defeated Hopewell in the Class 2A title game.

“We’re here again, among the heavyweights,” Jeff Thomas said, “and I feel the same way as I did last year. It’s doable to go the whole way. It’s doable for us, and it is for all the other heavyweights, too.”

SCORE BY HALVES

Mercyhurst Prep 1 0 0–1

Bedford 1 0 1–2

First half: M: Yeshim Onipede (unassisted), 23:12; B: Thomas (penalty kick), 1:05.

Overtime: B: Thomas (Jenna Brown), 8:10.

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