Panthers hold off Townies for state title

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The year 2017 will forever go down in history as the year of the Lady Panthers in Johnston High School athletics, as the girls’ soccer team captured its first championship, erasing a 1-0 halftime deficit to defeat its rival from East Providence, 2-1, on Sunday night at Rhode Island College.

The Townies (14-1) defeated Johnston last year on penalty kicks to win the title after the Panthers had gone undefeated. This year, it was the Townies who went undefeated in Division III, including a 3-2 victory over Johnston in mid-October, making Sunday night’s victory even more satisfying.

“It’s unreal, we worked really hard for this,” said the game’s Most Valuable Player, Gabriella Scarcella. “We came into this game wanting our revenge from last year, and we knew what we had to do, just play our game and defend more. We worked so hard in practice to get here and it paid off.”

Johnston beat the Lincoln School in their semifinal matchup, 5-2, while East Providence downed Narragansett, 3-1, to reach the finals.

A moment of silence was held before the game for Chariho’s Maddie Potts and Toll Gate’s Gianna Cirella, who passed away earlier this season.

It looked like Johnston (14-1) would get on the scoreboard first early in the first half, but Bianca Robbins’ goal was disallowed because of an offside. The Panthers would have a scare 15 minutes into the game when Robbins, the state’s leading goal scorer with 61, got tangled up with a Townie defender and went down hard. She would leave the game, but returned three minutes later.

East Providence’s Haily Placido gave her team a 1-0 lead at the 22:08 mark of the first half, a lead that it would take into halftime. The Panthers did not panic, as Scarcella tied the game 15 minutes into the second half, which gave them new life.

Eight minutes later, Robbins finally got loose and gave the Panthers their first lead of the game on her 62nd goal of the year, which would prove to be her most important tally of her career.

“We worked really hard for this,” an emotional Robbins said. “Soccer is the sport I play the most and I really wanted it. I kept pushing to score and I was not going to back down. We had to stay positive and we knew at halftime being down 1-0 that we would have to play tougher and smarter than them, and we did.” 

Robbins became Johnston’s all-time leading goal scorer earlier in the season, surpassing Hall of Famer Amanda Gelsomino’s 113 goals, a record that had stood for 15 years. Robbins also played on the undefeated Lady Panthers’ basketball team and on the Lady Panthers’ lacrosse team that won its first championship last spring.

Johnston head coach Tim Sprouls praised his junior forward.

“Bianca has turned her excellent soccer skills, great speed and an obvious relish for scoring goals into becoming the highest-scoring girl soccer player in Johnston High School history. Her accomplishment is also a reflection of the team’s play and the quality of players around her. Bianca’s teammates know that getting her the ball will often result in scores. Although Bianca is an excellent player in her own right, she has played at a time when the team has a number of talented players who have aided her in her success. However, while she couldn’t have done it alone, it has to be said that many of our wins and Johnston’s success are primarily due to Bianca’s great knack for scoring goals.” 

Sprouls also stressed that his team’s victory Sunday night was an overall team win.

He stated, “It’s unfair to pick an MVP, both Gabby and Bianca both played equally hard and they both came through for us. We have a lot of smart players on this team. We also have a thin team, we do not have a lot of reserves and we have freshmen and junior varsity players that are playing on the pitch, so the credit has to be spread around. East Providence is a big, strong team. They have a lot of speed in the back and front and we can’t compete with that speed. We countered it with our passing and possession game, that was our plan all year long. This was a team win, our girls really gave everything. It’s going to take a while to sink in that we won.” 

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