FAIRVIEW -- The greatest girls soccer season in Yough history came to a close at Fairview High School in Erie County on Tuesday.
Even so, you can't blame the Lady Cougars for feeling the season could've turned out even better than it did with a little break here or there.
After falling to North Catholic in a 1-0 double overtime heart-breaker in the WPIAL Class AA final Saturday morning, Yough battled District 10 champion Villa Maria Academy in the first round of the PIAA tournament on Tuesday. Despite out-playing the Victors for most of the second half, the Lady Cougars wound up on the short end of a 4-2 final score on Keck Field at Jack Bestwick Stadium.
Villa Maria (16-6) advances to the state quarterfinals where it will play Bedford, a 1-0 winner over South Park, on Saturday.
Yough's season ends at 17-3-1 with a co-section title to go along with its run in the WPIAL playoffs into the PIAA postseason.
"It was a good ride for us," Lady Cougars coach Dann Appolonia said. "The first time we got to the WPIAL final, the first time we got to the states.
"Still, I wish we could've done more. I wish we could've won the WPIAL, I wish we could've got past this game tonight. I really feel we were as good as anyone in the WPIAL, and I feel we were as good as anyone in the state.
"But there are close games and sometimes you win them and sometimes you lose them."
Yough dug itself a 2-0 hole in the first half as the Victors got goals from Ella Raimondi on as assist from Lauren Baloga at 31:13 and Mackenzie Fletcher on a pass from Morgan Harrington with just 30.7 seconds left.
Appolonia rallied his troops at halftime and Yough came out with a determined effort in the second half.
"I just told them I thought we were being too tentative," Appolonia said. "We need to be more aggressive. I felt the only reason they were winning 2-0 is they were being more aggressive than us and we were sitting back.
"I told them we need to up the intensity and we need to make a game of this. For some of you it's potentially your last game so you don't want to go out with a whimper. If you're going to go down, go down fighting.
"To their credit they did. They came out and played hard."
Knocking the Victors back on their heels, Yough finally broke through against goalkeeper Alex Velez when Justine Appolonia, who hit the crossbar with a shot in the first half, found an opening and drilled the ball into the back of the net with 19:49 left.
"I got behind their defense and I knew I had her off-balance so I just cut it in and took an outswinger with my left foot and luckily it curled right in," said the senior Youngstown State recruit, who became the Lady Cougars' all-time leading goal scorer this season.
Coach Appolonia could feel the momentum changing after his daughter's goal.
"They were on their heels," he said of Villa Maria. "I could see it in their eyes, they were a little bit tired and they were a little bit scared at that point. Even before that goal we were carrying the play. We were taking it to them."
Yough kept the pressure on but as the clock clicked under 13 minutes, Harrington made a run through the Lady Cougars' defense and netted a goal past Sara Krofcheck to put Villa Maria up 3-1.
The Victors made it 4-1 at 4:26 when Moira Thunnel scored as Krofcheck was knocked down during a traffic jam in front of Yough's net.
"The ball sort of bounced around between our defenders on that first one (of the second half)," coach Appolonia said. "That one was a little deflating. Even the fourth one was a deflection during a scrum. I know Sara got hit but I couldn't say if it was a foul.
"Even at 4-1, I give the girls credit, they didn't quit playing."
The Lady Cougars got within 4-2 when Natalie Vilchek curled a corner kick that deflected in off a Villa Maria player with 3:30 remaining. Vilcheck, one of the best in the WPIAL at corner kicks, had come tantalizingly close to setting up a Yough goal on several other occasions in the second half, only to have the ball somehow stay out of the net.
"The bounces didn't go our way in that second half," coach Appolonia said. "There were a couple times where that ball was right on the goal line on the corners. Then giving up a couple counter-attack goals that I thought were avoidable ... it could've been a completely different game for sure."
Justine Appolonia, who ended her career with 118 goals, including 33 this year, was sad to see her senior season come to an end, but admitted she was proud of the Lady Cougars' accomplishments.
"It's bittersweet for all of us to be here and to have it end this way," she said. "But making it further than any other Yough team has ever made it in my senior year is absolutely amazing.
"It's the best way to go out."
PIAA Class AA First Round
at Fairview High School
Yough 0-2 -- 2
Villa Maria 2-2 -- 4
VM: Ella Raimondi (Lauren Baloga), 31:13
VM: Mackenzie Fletcher (Morgan Harrington), 0:30
Y: Justine Appolonia, 19:49
VM: Morgan Harrington, 12:56
VM: Moira Thunnel, 4:26
Y: Natalie Vilchek (corner kick), 3:30.
Shots on goal: Yough 7, Villa Maria 8. Goalkeepers-saves: Yough, Sara Krofcheck 4; Villa Maria, Alex Velez 5. Corner kicks: Yough 6, Villa Maria 5. Records: Yough (17-3-1), Villa Maria Academy (16-6).