HAMBURG >> The Cumberland Valley girls soccer team could have been forgiven for dreading another meeting with Spring-Ford in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs. After all, the Rams ended the Eagles’ championship dreams in each of the previous two seasons.
But after escaping the first round against Parkland by rallying from a three-goal deficit, Cumberland Valley brimmed with belief and showed a knack for late-game drama – Rachael Dorwart’s game-winner with 9 seconds left Tuesday night serving as proof.
That confidence and flair for the dramatic was on display Saturday evening as substitute Mallory Johnson scored with 2:21 remaining to break a deadlock and lift Cumberland Valley to a 1-0 victory over Spring-Ford in a heavyweight PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal at Hamburg Area High School.
“It’s so relieving,” Cumberland Valley senior Jenny Bail said. “These past years, they’ve always been the ones to kick us out of states. We went into the game really pumped up and excited to be able to see them again. We came out and played the best we could.”
Cumberland Valley advances to face District 1 champion Central Bucks East – a 2-0 winner over Council Rock North on Saturday – on Tuesday and improves to 23-1, their only loss coming in the District 3 final to Daniel Boone.
“The fact that we had to fight so hard the game before I think we came into this knowing we had give it our all and push for the opportunity to have another opportunity and we weren’t going to waste that,” Bail said.
In each of their three PIAA tournament meetings – the first two came in the first round – the quality of play was among the highest you’ll see in high school girls soccer. It also meant a team deserving of a greater fate would
experience premature heartbreak.
This time, the tears were the Rams’.
“Against all of our opponents, we’ve only lost by one goal,” Spring-Ford senior midfielder Bri Cirino said. “It’s been unfortunate where we’ve made a mistake and they’ve capitalized, but otherwise we haven’t been stopped. Our back line is incredible. Everyone on the field is so talented.”
Cumberland Valley’s game-winner was barely a Rams’ mistake after Brice McInroy passed to Johnson into space along the left side, just outside the 18-yard box. Johnson sent in a lofted cross that flew over the head of Rams’ goalkeeper Amanda Byrd, who had arguably her best game of the postseason with six saves, and into the net.
“It was a whole open space,” Johnson told reporters. “My thought was to cross it and it went in.”
Up to that point it was a back-and-forth battle.
CV, under first-year head coach George Gemberling, controlled the game early and had a great chance on a breakaway from Dorwart, a member of the U17 United States Women’s National Team, but Byrd charged and blocked the shot. Otherwise, Dorwart and CV’s other attacking standouts were kept quiet by the back three of Taylor Newhart, Amy Roth and Missy Moore plus the support of Laura Suero and Libby Andrews in the midfield.
“When we lost the ball we got it back quickly. The flow of the game was great,” Suero said. “We worked so hard to get the ball back, so hard to go forward, so hard on defense. We played as a team on offense and defense. I love that about us: we play as a team all the time.”
Before halftime, Andrews made a save off the goal line on a corner kick to keep it 0-0.
The Rams came out on the attack in the second half. Sophomore Gabby Kane had the Rams’ best chance of the game on a pretty passing move from Kelly Franz and Gabrielle Vagnozzi to get in close, but CV keeper Sydney Bruckner (four saves) made the fingertip stop. The Eagles pulled back the momentum through the second half, a Bail free kick that grazed the left post with 26 minutes to play and a near-miss when Deanna Laubach was played in by Johnson counting as their best chances.
CV led in shots on goal (6-4), goal attempts (12-10) and corners (4-1).
Spring-Ford’s defeat ended the second-most successful three-year run of any Class AAA school since 2012 when the entire state began playing girls soccer in the fall. (CB East is tops by making the semifinals for a third straight year).
With an appearance in the PIAA final (2013) and two quarterfinal trips (2014, 2015), Spring-Ford (18-6-2) turned itself from a Pioneer Athletic Conference also-ran into an annual state contender.
At the center of it were seniors Vagnozzi, Suero, Newhart and Cirino, each starters during all three years of the Rams’ state runs.
“I know all of the seniors, especially us four, we go out there and give it all we’ve got. We want to do it for each other. I play for her, I play for her, I play for her,” Vagnozzi said, pointing at each of Suero, Newhart and Cirino, “and everyone else on the team.”
In playing more than 100 games together – Saturday marked the 101st for the Rams’ senior class, a sign of postseason success – there’s a special bond that’s been forged.
“I’m wowed by them all the time. It’s awesome. Just watching them, growing up together, I’m so happy to have been a part of this,” Suero said.
Plus starting right back Roth, as well as reserves Madi Mitchell, Corinne Winters, Tori Busa, Rachel Astheimer, Sarah Johnston and Anna D’Orazio, the Spring-Ford senior class has been a program-changer.
“My first day as an assistant was their first day as freshmen,” head coach Tim Leyland said. “It’s been fun. We’ve had our ups and downs – today is a bit of a down, but what they’ve done over the longevity of their careers and what they’ve done for this program is immeasurable.
“Five or six years ago this program was pretty much a laughing matter. We were the walkover. This senior class has changed the program. I hope they’ve changed it for the long term, too.”
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