WEST GOSHEN >> Less than eight minutes into its District 1-AA semifinal Monday night, Erica DeCandido gave the Gwynedd Mercy girls soccer team the lead, heading in a free kick Kimberly Sanford sent into the 18-yard box.
“It was terrific ball in by Kim,” Monarchs coach Steve Whitby said. “And of course, when your head’s that close to the sun, you got a chance in the box.”
But finding that second tally proved a little elusive. Second-seeded GMA had a firm grip of its contest with No. 3 Lower Moreland, but for more than 46 minutes, chances to add to its lead were pushed wide and high.
“I think we were doing everything right,” DeCandido said. “And I think we knew that. And we knew that if could just keep it away from them and possess it around then, then our finishes would come.”
Maggie Cameron finally added that two to the scoreboard for GMA at 26:13 in the second half, taking a pass from Meghan Corso and ripping a one-hopper into left corner of the Lions’ net.
From there, the Monarchs tacked on two more to roll to a 4-0 victory at West Chester East’s Harold I. Zimmerman Stadium.
“We started playing simple soccer,” Whitby said. “And when we play simple soccer, we’re successful.”
DeCandido finished with a pair of goals – added her second with a hard blast with 9:51 left – while Rachel Koller added the final tally off a corner as Gwynedd Mercy advanced the district final for fourth time in the past five seasons.
“In the first half, we weren’t making a lot of them. We weren’t finishing a lot,” DeCandido said. “But we have really good leaders on this team – Maggie Cameron, Mary Claire Casey – and at halftime we all pulled together and we just are really working as a team recently and I think it’s awesome to see.
GMA faces either top-seeded Villa Joseph Marie or No. 4 Villa Maria in the final 7 p.m. Wednesday at Souderton. Only the district champion qualifies for the PIAA tournament.
“I think that our goal every year is to get to the final and even get to states, because it’s really hard with only one team getting into states,” DeCandido said. “But, we’ve made it a goal our whole season to try to get to this point and we worked really hard. I mean, we have such a strong group of girls and a strong bench, so I’m really proud of all of them.
With top goal scorer Bridgette Alexander — committed to Division I Hartford – out due to injury, Lower Moreland struggled to create chances against the GMA backline as the Lions were bounced from districts for the fourth straight year by the Monarchs.
“There was no, how would you say, unrealistic expectations. We thought maybe we could keep them out long enough and steal one,” Lower Moreland coach John Oberholtzer said.
DeCandido gave Gwynedd Mercy a 1-0 lead at 32:34 in the opening half. Sanford’s free kick taken from more than 35 yards out was perfectly delivered into the center of the penalty area to DeCandido, who headed the ball into the right corner.
“I know that she is always good with placing the ball right where you can head it,” DeCandido said. “And most of the time I don’t get to it. But I tried to be far enough to it that I could run up to it and I just head it in.”
The Monarchs were close to adding more goals before halftime, but held just a 1-0 lead at the break.
Cameron outran the Lions for a forward-played ball, but her shot went across the face of the net and just wide. Carly Heineman blasted a ball high while Kendall Selfert could not convert on a pair of quality looks.
But at 26:13 in the second half, Cameron made it 2-0 with her effort from the top of the 18-yard box — a right-footed strike that took a bounce before going in.
“Placement was excellent,” Whitby said. “Great goal by Maggie and very important goal in this match.
DeCandido collected her second for a 3-0 Monarch advantage at 9:51 with a hard shot the Lions’ keeper could not hold on to.
“I don’t know how that went it. I shot it right at the goalie,” she said
Koller added GMA’s fourth goal by getting a foot on a Corso corner kick in traffic in front of the net with 6:32 remaining.
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