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Episcopal tops GA for Inter-Ac title behind O’Brian’s hat trick

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WHITEMARSH >> Germantown Academy and Episcopal Academy met two times in girls’ soccer this season and twice the game finished with the same result.

Fittingly enough, the two games were quite similar. Episcopal roared out to a good start, GA clawed back and the Churchwomen found a late winner.

It just so happened that when Molly O’Brian scored her third goal of the game on a rain-soaked afternoon Tuesday and it held up for a 3-2 win, it brought Episcopal its first Inter-Ac title since 2012. A great run and set up by Jess Shanahan provided the clincher.

“We play really well together, we’re the dynamic duo as we call each other,” O’Brian said. “I saw Jess, I let her take the sideline, she had all that space and I just waited up top and knew it was going to be one of our plays. It’s just happened throughout the season.”

With a heavy downpour rolling through the area about an hour before the scheduled kick, the start was delayed and the turf extra unpredictable. All game, balls skimmed, skipped and bounced off the soaked surface making it a tough game to read early on.

It was a little too familiar for the Patriots, who again saw a flat start put them in a hole they needed to climb out of. O’Brian struck just past the five-minute mark when she finished from inside the six after a corner kick put the ball in GA’s box.

That goal held up for quite a while as Episcopal controlled much of the first half against the hosts. Just as GA was starting to find its way, O’Brian found another chance. A pass set her up for a clean look and the junior didn’t waste it, skipping the ball over the turf and just inside the post with 2:48 left in the half.

Bob Raines--Montgomery Media Brynn Skelly (Germantown Academy) and Jessica Shanahan (Episcopal) race for the ball Nov. 10, 2015.

Bob Raines–Montgomery Media Brynn Skelly (Germantown Academy) and Jessica Shanahan (Episcopal) race for the ball Nov. 10, 2015.

“I don’t think we played very well in the first half and they certainly outplayed us,” GA coach Chris Nelson said. “I thought we played a relatively even second half. We made a defensive mistake at the tail end there and it cost us. They definitely deserved to win that game.”

The second goal seemed to finally wake GA up. Forward Mackenzie Pluck, who had already made a few quality runs into EA’s defense got a ball she could work with. A through pass sprung the striker in alone and she calmly finished with a defender closing on her back with two minutes left in the half.

It was exactly what the Patriots needed going into and coming out of the break.

“I thought we were in good shape,” Nelson said. “I think we had a couple of good looks and if we finish one of those, maybe the game changes a little bit because they get a little nervous. We had our opportunities, we just didn’t make the most of them.”

Pluck would equalize about a minute and a half into the second period. A corner kick was recovered on the opposite side by Emilia Dolaway, who then ripped a cross from the endline back into the box. Players from both teams crashed, but it was Pluck who rose highest and headed the ball into the net.

Bob Raines--Montgomery Media Rachael Villari (Germantown Academy) beats out Kelsey Slack (Episcopal) for a head ball.

Bob Raines–Montgomery Media Rachael Villari (Germantown Academy) beats out Kelsey Slack (Episcopal) for a head ball.

GA had seized the momentum and was rolling with it but couldn’t put away that needed third goal.

With an Inter-Ac title on the line, the game was understandably intense and physical. While the officials let some of that battling and jostling for the ball go, there was also a fair amount of advantage play given.

On one such occasion, a foul on GA was allowed to continue and ended with a collision that left Episcopal defender Lily Shaner down injured. The junior had to be taken off the field with a leg injury and didn’t return, but it also served to galvanize the Churchwomen.

“We came out a little slow in the second half, when (Shaner) got hurt, that got our momentum back,” O’Brian said. “We really stepped it up. That’s how we were able to win, a big team effort.”

Episcopal continued to pressure GA up and down the field, taking back the run of play and creating a few dangerous chances.

“There were moments where we didn’t stay as composed as we would have liked to in the back,” Nelson said. “At least on two occasions, that burned us.”

The second occurrence would be the costliest. Shanahan was able to slip past the fullback and ran into open space along the left flank. Figuring her only option in shooting would be an extremely tight angle the keeper could cover easily, the speedster spotted O’Brian in prime position.

Keeping the ball on the turf, Shanahan played it back across goal and O’Brian was ready, completing her hat trick with 7:53 to go.
“I knew Molly had a better angle because I saw her charging in from the top of the 18,” Shanahan said. “Molly had a lot better position to hit it in and we needed that goal.”

GA threw everything it had left forward trying to tie it again but couldn’t come up with some late magic of their own. Nelson said it was frustrating to lose twice in a similar manner, but reiterated that EA deserved the win.

Both teams finish Inter-Ac play on Saturday before the PAISAA tournament starts for each next Tuesday. As the top overall seed, GA will look to some unfinished business after falling in the final last season.

“Hopefully it will help us refocus our energy on whatever we’re able to do from hereon out,” Nelson said. “I think we’ll learn that we need to play a full 80 minutes of soccer to beat a team that good.”

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