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Sept. 27, 2015 — A day of championship-level clashes … and one that didn’t happen

It turns out that yesterday’s Turf Bowl game between MPSSAA Class 4A champion Severna Park (Md.) and DIAA champion Lewes Cape Henlopen was not the only game which saw a meeting of postseason titans. From coast to coast, there were instances of interstate matches, unfinished business, and a midseason classic.

That midseason classic was the knockout round of the Serra Invitational, which saw defending CIF Division I champion San Diego Serra (Calif.) defeat defending CIF Division II champion San Diego Scripps Ranch 3-0. In the game, Megan Rodgers had a pair of goals, bringing her to 24 on the season, one of the country’s leading scorers as a junior. Serra had defeated San Diego Torrey Pines (Calif.) 3-1 and Rancho Buena Vista (Calif.) 5-1 earlier in the day and was keen to get out in front in the final and let the afternoon heat be the 12th opponent.

“That lead was crucial because it was so hot out and everyone was tired,” Rodgers told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “It would have been just as hard to come back from a 2-0 deficit as it was for them to do it against us.”

A few thousand miles to the east, there was some unfinished business in Pennsylvania. There, Palmyra (Pa.) met Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.) in a rematch of last year’s PIAA Class AAA championship game that ended in a co-championship after extra time. It was the championship of a four-team tournament at Palmyra, meaning that, like in the Serra Invitational, player management was crucial and younger players would be key.

Such was the case for Penn Manor, who got the difference-maker in overtime of the final from freshman Gabby Bitts in a 2-1 win. The winner came on a tip-in of a raised ball that Bitts knocked into the cage with a raised stick.

“It was the slowest moment of my life as I tipped it,” Bitts told The Harrisburg Patriot-News. “It was so amazing to see it go in. This feels so good after we tied them in states, to show we can actually beat them. And it was cool to be in it this time; to feel how much you actually want it.”

Up in Connecticut, Wilton (Conn.) had fallen one rung short of the CIAC Class M title a year ago, and were looking to use an interstate match against Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.), the defending NYSPHSAA Class B champions. Lakeland, featuring an extremely good forward line, ran out 4-0 winners. Senior Dana Bozek had a pair of goals in the contest, and she remains amongst the nation’s leading goal-scorers with the effort.

Lakeland’s road to a seventh straight state championship isn’t going to be easy, however. The Hornets will be hosting Mamaroneck (N.Y.) in two weeks, and will have a throw-down at Darien (Conn.) on Oct. 17th. Darien, lest we forget, is the defending CIAC Class L co-champion.

There was supposed to be another meeting of champions yesterday, with NJSIAA Group IV Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) being scheduled to travel to Washington Warren Hills (N.J.) to meet the Group III champion Blue Streaks. But tragedy intervened; the death of Warren Hills football quarterback Evan Murray after Friday night’s game against Summit (N.J.) forced the postponement of all of the school’s athletic events yesterday.

This space has not yet been advised of a makeup date, and, given the gravity of the situation, it’s the last thing that the Warren Hills athletic community needs to think about. And if there’s any school community that can relate, it’s Eastern. The school’s girls’ soccer team is still grieving over the sudden death of Kara Lemanowicz earlier this month.

I’m hoping that both school communities are given a chance to grieve and heal.

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