EMMAUS >>Jules LaSanta had already waited an extra day to play a state soccer game, so she could take a few more seconds waiting for a goal to come.
A few ticks after being denied on a tremendous save, the Lansdale Catholic senior got what she was after. Lucky for her and for the Crusaders, it was all they would need thanks to an unlikely hero in net and a smart team effort on the field.
LC emerged with a 1-0 win over Southern Lehigh in the first round of the PIAA Class AA girls soccer tournament Wednesday night at Emmaus High School. A day after rain had postponed the game, the Crusaders came in ready and took home the first state playoff win in school history.
“We were ready,” LaSanta said. “We came in with a good mindset. We didn’t know the team so we were thinking what it was going to be like but. They were similar to one of our competitors in the PCL so we thought we could win this.”
With both varsity keepers sidelined, LC turned to freshman Kristina Finkelston, a JV player who spent most of her time as a field player. Despite being put in a big spot, Finkelston delivered and played with poise down the stretch.
“It was a gameday decision, like a 20 minutes before kickoff decision,” O’Donnell said. “I’m sure she was (nervous). The kids around her give her plenty of support and urge her to go on.”
La Santa said the team was comfortable with Finkelston in net and they knew what she could do from watching JV games and practice.
The game’s first true threat, and the first big test for Finkelston, came with about 25 minutes left in the first half. Southern Lehigh’s Amanda Mobley got loose down the left flank and played a ball back to the wide open Kaitlyn O’Brien a step inside the box. The freshman keeper was up for it, parrying it over the bar for a corner, but keeping the sheet clean.
“She made that parry in the first half and it could have been 1-0 them,” O’Donnell said. “It looked like we were fast and controlling the play but they have a great opportunity and there’s the kid, first play on goal and parries it over.”
Kate Henesey, to that point well-marked, took matters onto her own feet. Winning the ball on her right flank, the forward worked it down and slipped it to LaSanta, who then put it on frame.
A terrific diving save by Southern Lehigh’s Ellie Cassel denied LaSanta but she could only push it out for a corner. Midfielder Colbie Cumming played a picturesqe ball in and this time, LaSanta wasn’t going to be denied. The senior finished well on the near post with 14:59 left to stake the Crusdaers to a lead.
“Whenever you get knocked down, it motivates you to go after it harder and get it the next time,” LaSanta said. “We’ve been working on volleys at practice. I kicked it and hoped it was going in. It hit off the girl at the post and I thought ‘oh gosh, she’s going to save it.’ But it went in so it was a lot of relief.”
Henesey, who was well-marked to start the game, moved out to the flank and started to see the ball as a result. Getting a few touches seemed to help the high-scoring junior and she got more involved even after going back up top.
LC’s left side of Tara Sheridan and Sarah Opdyke had a tremendous first half. Opdyke at midfield, made plenty of runs forward and won a number of tackles while Sheridan controlled the back line and made a few forays herself. It wasn’t just those two as the Crusaders frequently switched positions on the field.
“When we’re stuck at some points, not getting to goal or getting as many shots, we try to switch it around,” LaSanta said. “From the midfield, some go to offense and we try to use our wides a lot. We try to get crosses in because our wides are really fast.”
LC did most of it without being prompted either.
“They do that and the beauty of it is somebody covers, it’s not four kids running to one side,” O’Donnell said. “I’m proud of them. I let them go. You make the decision on the field.”
The second half nearly started with a bang for the Crusaders. After Erin Toburen latched onto a through ball, she picked put Henesey and put the forward in alone.
Henesey unloaded but Cassel, also just a freshman, used all off her length to get a palm at the far post and deny Henesey. The ball again went out for a corner but the Spartans were able to clear.
“She made two very nice saves and this really could’ve, would’ve, should’ve been 3-0,” O’Donnell said. “She was the No. 2 star of the game. You have LaSanta with the goal then her.”
LC held off a late surge from Southern Lehigh and ran out the clock to advance to the state quarterfinals. The Crusaders will face Fleetwood, the District 3 champion, on Saturday at a time and site to be determined.
After giving the team off Tuesday, O’Donnell said he’s open to do it again Thursday if the weather’s bad. At this point, teams can only practice so much and if LaSanta’s enthusiasm was any clue, LC won’t need to get fired up for the second round.
“We don’t need to get touches on the ball, we know how to touch the ball,” O’Donnell said. “We took a day off, we rested and for all I know, we roasted marshmallows yesterday but they came out ready to play.”
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