WILLOW GROVE >> Brianna Costa didn’t have time to think about it.
Just two minutes into overtime, the Lower Moreland forward was in front of the net, the ball at her foot and Upper Moreland keeper Kim Benge rushing forward. So there was no time to do anything but react.
Costa’s instinct proved correct as she powered the ball past Benge and into the back of the net to give the Lions a 3-2 overtime win over the host Golden Bears in the clash of Morelands on a hot Friday afternoon.
“Gianna (Penecale) crossed the ball in, it was coming to me so I just chested it down and took it in,” Costa said. “The goalie was coming in, so I just tapped it around her. It was an instant where you just kick it and it will go in kind of thing.”
Getting to the extra period was a drawn-out battle between two teams that didn’t have a lot of chances and wanted to put away a couple more of the few they did have. For Lower Moreland, it was the continuation to a 6-0 undefeated start to the season as a young team is rounding into form quickly.
Upper Moreland on the other hand, closed out a tough week with a gut-twisting setback. The Bears have been a tough out all season with a lot of hard workers in the midfield and back, but the offense hasn’t produced enough to validate all that effort.
Losses to Quakertown and Wissahickon earlier in the week had Upper Moreland motivated to close things out on a high note.
“It was a battle today,” Bears coach Lisa Benvenuto said. “This is our fourth overtime game. We have to capitalize on our opportunities and that’s what it comes back to. We have two or three right in front of the goal and you gotta finish those so you don’t get into these situations.”
The field was an adventure for both teams. Still bone dry from the summer and worn from use, the surface was not friendly to either team, playing a lot of bad hops and odd bounces that made the usual simple act of trapping and controlling the ball difficult.
For the Lions, who play their home games on a turf facility, getting used to the conditions was tough. As expected, Lower Moreland looked much more comfortable in the second half when it found its equalizer.
“We knew we were going to be in a dogfight, especially on this field,” Lower Moreland coach John Oberholtzer said. “You have to concentrate when you have a rough grass field but the kids really did well and I felt we had the better of play a lot of the time. Both sides didn’t have a lot of scoring opportunities.”
Upper Moreland scored in the 29th minute when reserve Shannon Moore was in the right place at the right time. A ball in put Sarah Veneziale in a good spot but her shot was saved and parried away, right into Moore’s path and the junior didn’t waste the opportunity.
For the rest of the half, the Bears did well to contain Lower Moreland, with Maggie Finn and Madison Pisut covering ground in the midfield and center back Sam Cancel controlling the back line. But once the break came and the Lions could settle down, the game turned.
After halftime, Lower Moreland’s passing got cleaner, the backs cleared the ball better and the players got more used to the play of the field.
“The first touch definitely was an issue,” Costa said. “We just stepped it up and knew that if we wanted to win, we’d have to pressure them all the time and get to the ball first.”
Lower Moreland’s adjustments paid off nine minutes after the break when sophomore Allison Asmann was able to work her way to the endline and whipped in a cross that Yasmin Machlof was able to put home. Asmann, who’s been a scorer and facilitator for the Lions all season, was the source of most of their chances by putting balls in the box.
Upper Moreland did firm up after the goal, but Lower Moreland was holding the advantage in possession and opportunities.
“They don’t give up,” Benvenuto said. “They’re starting to believe in the mentality that they can play with anybody else that’s out on the field. We’re a few steps away from where we need to be and once that all clicks, we’re going to get there. It’s just an unfortunate way to end the week.”
Benvenuto gave her players an impassioned talk before overtime started but the first chance fell to the Lions and they weren’t about to waste it.
Oberholtzer only has three seniors on his roster but his team has come together very quickly, already owning a win over BAL nemesis Christopher Dock and taking strides forward after losing some tremendous players like Bridgette Alexander, now at Hartford, to graduation.
Costa said the players all get along and they just seem to play well together, but added that’s also due to the coaching staff.
“There’s a good chemistry with this group,” Oberholzter said. “A lot goes to Kayla (Omalley) and Miah (Gomez) in the back and the captains (Jordyn) Himmelstein and (Jordyn) Cohen. It’s a much closer-knit group and we’re not relying on just one or two players and more fun for everybody.”
Upper Moreland goes right back into it with games against Upper Dublin and Plymouth-Whitemarsh next week.
“We just have to put together that last piece of finishing,” Benvenuto said. “The effort is there. The leadership in the middle of the field is stellar. Sam’s so strong. It’s just too many touches, trying to set up the perfect shot. It’s all stuff we’ve been working on in practice.”
Lower Moreland 0 1 1 – 2
Upper Moreland 1 0 0 – 1
Goals: LM – Yasmin Machlof (Allison Asmann) 49’, Brianna Costa (Gianna Penecale) 82’; UM – Shannon Moore (Sarah Veneziale) 29’