ROYERSFORD >> Through all the Spring-Ford girls soccer team’s success in the past three seasons, there’s been one spot of trouble: the district quarterfinals.
The stage where a team can become instant qualifiers to the PIAA Championships and move on to the Final Four of District 1 Class AAA has been unforgiving. In 2013, the Rams ran into No. 1 seed and eventual district and state champion Neshaminy, falling 2-1. In 2014, they ran into another top seed, Pennsbury, and went down 2-0.
In 2015, Spring-Ford was the unforgiving one.
An early wake-me-up goal by Owen J. Roberts ignited the Rams before senior forward Gabrielle Vagnozzi scored two goals and sophomore Kelly Franz drilled a lead-taking penalty kick and Spring-Ford overwhelmed OJR, 3-1, Saturday afternoon at Spring-Ford’s Coach McNelly Stadium to clinch a spot in District 1-AAA semifinals and a berth in the state playoffs.
“I think we played one of the best games we’ve ever played,” Vagnozzi said. “We came out, we were ready and even when they scored first we had our heads up the whole time. There wasn’t a second where we had our heads down. That was huge. I love how the team doesn’t get down on themselves and they keep going until we get the results we want.”
The Rams (17-3-2) advance to face the winner of No. 1 Central Bucks East and No. 8 Central Bucks South on Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.
The Wildcats (15-6), meanwhile, are now forced to navigate the difficult path of reaching states through a four-team playback for the district’s fifth spot. It’s a path that isn’t unfamiliar to the current ‘Cats after advancing to the fifth-place game last season, falling to – who else? – Spring-Ford.
When Spring-Ford’s golden era began two years ago featuring the then-sophomore core of Vagnozzi, defenders Laura Suero, Taylor Newhart, Amy Roth and midfielder Bri Cirino, the mantra was all about making history.
Saturday called for a call back in the minds of the current seniors.
“Before we came in today we said that we could rewrite history because we have never been in this position before,” Vagnozzi said of making the district semis and clinching states without playbacks. “Our motto a couple years ago was ‘We’ll make history’ so that was in the back of our minds. It’s awesome.”
History may have looked to be repeating when Emilie Kupsov, the leading scorer in the Pioneer Athletic Conference this season (26 goals), put the finishing touch on a cross from along the left end line by Mahogany Willis in the 12th minute.
It turned out to be their only shot of the game. The Rams led in shots on goal 9-1, total shots 16-1 and corners 8-3.
Spring-Ford, which won both regular season meetings (5-0 on Sept. 17; 2-1 on Oct. 15), still needed to convert its chances, though.
It finally happened with just over 8 minutes until halftime thanks to a spark from center back Newhart. The La Salle commit stopped an OJR counterattack, carried the ball into the attacking third and played a pass centrally to sophomore Libby Andrews. Andrews slipped a pass into Vagnozzi, who struck her shot from the right side near-post to level the match.
“Their back line does a really nice job so I’ve been working on making a quick turn,” Vagnozzi said. “I’ve been recently taking too many touches becaue I want to get that perfect shot, but I know that’s not going to happen. I just wanted to turn quick and rip one.”
The Rams were bearing down but caught a break for their second goal when KK O’Donnell was run into by an OJR defender just inside the penalty area as she chased down a ball destined for keeper Kiera McCloud (six saves).
Instead of calling on any of their stable of Division I-bound seniors, Franz, a sophomore, stepped to the spot, staying consistent with the Rams’ belief in the best penalty takers in practice taking them in games, like in the PIAA first round a year ago when five seniors who hadn’t played a minute advanced the team in PKs.
“That was my first one (in a game),” Franz said. “The nerves left my body and I knew someone had to do it. And I decided that it might as well be me. I wanted to put that on my shoulders and I went up there, was calm and did what I knew I could do.”
“She nails them all the time in practice,” Vagnozzi said.
With no rookie jitters anywhere to be found, Franz coolly deposited her take to the right side to give Spring-Ford the 2-1 lead with 26:41 to play.
Ten minutes later, Vagnozzi ended any questions with a clean strike from the edge of the 18 into the left side of goal, assisted by sophomore Gabby Kane, for a 3-1 lead.
OJR’s 20-goal scorers Willis and Kupsov were denied supply throughout despite the efforts of the Kylie Cahill-led defense, making it a difficult day all around for the Wildcats.
“They played well and we played bad. It was a combination,” OJR coach Joe Margusity said. “We did a terrible job of turning the ball over and we never really held the ball for any length of time. We were chasing defensively and making technical mistake after technical mistake.
“Against a team like (Spring-Ford), they’re going to eat you alive.”
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