MIDDLETOWN >> In a Central League whose top half-dozen or so teams figure to be separated by miniscule margins as the season wears on, drawing an assignment like Garnet Valley and Penncrest in the league opener Thursday wasn’t exactly an ideal scheduling outcome.
Without the benefit of easing into the slate, the two teams looked very much like early-season combatants in a 0-0 draw. And nowhere was the stalemate more pronounced than in central midfield, a fitting allegory for what lies ahead.
On one side, there was the Penncrest pairing of Corryn Gamber with her dominance in the air and Gia Martyn’s penchant for jumping into the attack. Martyn generated many of the Lions’ best chances, including a dipping drive in overtime that came closest to beating Garnet Valley goalie Ashley Bufano.
On Garnet Valley’s side, Jenna Buttermore helped keep things tidy in the middle, with Ava Wenger and sophomore Alyssa Saito trying to generate attacks.
Both sides succeeded in turning the other away, but neither landed the crucial shot or incisive final pass to construct a goal … hence the parity in the early September heat that could extend to the standings in the weeks and months ahead.
“We know we face adversity and we try to do as best we can,” Buttermore said. “Coming into having two overtimes, we tried our best.”
Part of the approach for Garnet Valley entailed limiting Penncrest’s dangerous forwards, Tara Higgins and Olivia Mancarella, the ball. Neither did much, though Mancarella fired a pair of shots on goal, both from outside the box and easily handled among Bufano’s eight saves.
“We tried to work the ball through the middle, and then we worked at stepping to the ball,” Buttermore said. “We tried to keep our (possession) middle, wide and then back in, and we tried to keep them out of the middle to keep them wide because we have a good goalie who’s good with crosses.”
Martyn was the most noticeable performer on the pitch, starting from the game’s first five minutes when she curled a free kick from 20 yards out over the wall and off the crossbar.
The senior squandered a chance to end the game 70 seconds into overtime, but Bufano shimmied over to the near post in time to catch it and extinguish the most dangerous moment of the night.
“I definitely wish that went in,” Martyn said. “I definitely should’ve took a better touch or gotten my body around it, and obviously that could’ve changed the game so much.”
Garnet Valley, meanwhile, took 55 minutes to find a shot of any kind, an off-target effort by midfielder Sydney Peterson. The Jags failed to test Penncrest goalie Bryn McLaughlin with a shot, ceding a significant edge in possession to the hosts and playing large stretches in their own half.
It was a game where the absences of injured midfielder Julia Burnell and All-Delco forward Britney Dragoni were felt, and the Jags weren’t helped by Gia Dragoni and Alex Zecca each spending stretches on the sideline after picking up knocks.
“It’s quick feet and just moving off the ball, moving into space and taking the shot,” said Buttermore. “… We have some younger players, but they’re aggressive and I feel like they’ll get there eventually.”
For however dour the action, there’s an obvious bright side for both teams. The Jaguars get a decision away from home, which is never to be taken for granted. And Penncrest stands its ground at home, prevailing with the knowledge that the Lions are off to a good start, even if it didn’t sum to a victory.
“I think we had the better of play this game,” Martyn said. “I think we controlled the ball most of the game, got more shots. We kept it out of our defensive third most of the game, so I can’t be upset about how we all played. I think we played well.”
Also in the Central League:
Strath Haven 6, Ridley 0 >> Maddie Forbes recorded a hat trick, Morgan Crain tallied twice and Lizzie King dished three assists as the Panthers rolled. Margot Hotham added a goal and an assist.
Conestoga 3, Springfield 1 >> Bailey O’Brien scored off a feed from Julia Shickling to give the Cougars a brief lead, but they couldn’t slow down the Pioneers away from home. Molly Ryan worked the second half in goal for Springfield (1-3, 0-1), making eight saves.
In the Inter-Ac League:
Notre Dame 3, Agnes Irwin 3 >> Mandy McGurk scored with two minutes left to send the Irish to overtime and earn a draw in the Inter-Ac opener.
Juliette Marchesani and Christine Savich also scored for the Irish (2-0-2, 0-0-1), who got 11 saves from Caroline O’Keefe.
Maria Pansini, Natalie Pansini and Annie McConnon scored for Agnes Irwin. Kendall Shein made nine saves.