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Cropper’s best save timed perfectly for Penncrest

MIDDLETOWN >> With a resigned nod, Miranda Cropper concurs on the description of the first goal she surrendered Tuesday.

“Yeah, it’s regrettable,” the Penncrest goalkeeper allowed.

But after Penncrest’s punishing 2-2 draw with Conestoga, there was no time for frowns from Cropper, given her starring role in the Lions’ ensuring a share of the points.

Penncrest’s Gia Martyn scored a goal and helped set up another Tuesday as Penncrest drew with Conestoga, which is still unbeaten. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Penncrest’s Gia Martyn scored a goal and helped set up another Tuesday as Penncrest drew with Conestoga, which is still unbeaten. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Cropper made nine saves, none bigger than a point-blank denial of Conestoga’s Nia Scott in the final minute of the first overtime.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves on the goalkeeping roller coaster. The ride started inauspiciously, with a back pass played to Cropper 11 minutes in. She booted it upfield as forward Caitlin Donovan closed her down, and the ball bounded off Donovan, looped over a helpless Cropper and into the net against the run of play.

“I know I just have to forget about it,” Cropper said. “That’s in the past. I can’t change it. I have to make sure I save the next couple of shots.”

“I think for the team, we just have to keep our heads up,” captain Gia Martyn said. “The captains, the seniors have to keep everybody up and keep them in a positive mood because it was such an early goal, the game wasn’t over yet. We had a bunch of time to get one back, and we did.”

Cropper rebounded, with a couple of hiccups along the way. She kneed away a dipping drive from Hannah Morgan in the first half, scrambling to cover the ricochet. She bobbled a Donovan side-volley in the second half but recovered. And in the second OT, she broke off her line, stopped, slipped, then corralled a through ball from Rachel DiRico aimed at the streaking Donovan.

Along the way, Cropper also dove in vain at a curling free kick by Stoga’s Calista Courtney that two-hopped into the side netting, knotting the score at 2 in the 63rd minute.

But with the game on Scott’s right foot, Cropper came through, snaring a shot head-high just off her left shoulder.

“I just saw the ball get past her, and no one was on her,” Cropper said. “So I just set my feet and I knew she was coming. I kept my eye on the ball, and as she shot it, I watched the ball go into my hands.”

Odd as it seems to highlight a goalie who conceded twice behind a team that had allowed just four combined all season, the defensive effort was integral to Penncrest’s mode of attack. Like few opponents Conestoga (9-0-4, 7-0-2 Central) has faced, the Lions didn’t abandon their game plan. They patiently strung together passes, playing through the middle of the pitch and breaking down Conestoga the way it has other teams, instead of resorting to hopeful, long-ball tactics.

“Since we have so many great players in a lot of different places, banging the ball (around) won’t help them at all,” Martyn said. “Passing to feet, getting it forward is just a great idea for us since we have so many good players.”

Martyn epitomized that poise. She scored the first goal from the spot two minutes before half when Corryn Gamber was felled in the box under light contact from DiRico. Soft call or not, Martyn slotted the penalty low to Colleen Baldwin’s left where the keeper, guessing correctly, was powerless to repel it.

Conestoga's Caitlin Donovan, left, passes under pressure from Penncrest's Corryn Gamber during the teams' 2-2 draw Tuesday. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Conestoga’s Caitlin Donovan, left, passes under pressure from Penncrest’s Corryn Gamber during the teams’ 2-2 draw Tuesday. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

In the 61st minute, Martyn did the heavy lifting to set up Tara Higgins’s goal, slaloming through tackles on a 30-yard run up the center of Conestoga’s defense. The ball found its way to Higgins in the right channel, in a similar area as Scott’s stonewalled effort, to lash a shot into the roof of the net.

Penncrest’s reticence to abandon its plan was a boon to the backline, which held firm against an undermanned but dangerous Conestoga side. The starting back four consists of two sophomores (Carly Dunford and Sarah Hughes) and two freshmen (Kenna Kaut and Julia Mullaney). But as they have all year, they hardly put a foot wrong.

“I think we all work really well together,” Dunford said. “We have a pressure-cover system, so I can count on them to back me up.”

Conestoga leveled the score via Courtney, who hoped to add to Cropper’s topsy-turvy day in one way, but ended up succeeding in another.

“When I saw it was close to goal, I thought that it could be in my range,” the defender said. “We were hearing that if I did hit the goalie, she might have (let up) a rebound, so it would be better if I got it closer to goal. And it somehow just got it.”

The draw torpedoes the slim chance Penncrest (9-1-3, 5-1-3) had harbored of reentering the Central title hunt, while dropping Conestoga behind Strath Haven, with which it drew. But for the Class 3A Lions to hold their own against the leaders in the latest District 1 4A rankings is a significant moral victory.

“We played out hearts out,” Martyn said, “and we came out with the tie, which is not the worst thing here.”

Also in the Central League:

Garnet Valley 10, Upper Darby 0 >> Jill Nagy recorded a hat trick, and Regan Nealon and Riley Delaney tallied twice each for the Jags.

In nonleague action:

Chichester 5, Penn Wood 2 >> Megan Carroll posted a hat trick, and Monigo Karnley scored and took a shift in goal for the Eagles (6-9-0).  Awa Dicko and Mailani Hobbs scored for Penn Wood.

Westtown 7, Delco Christian 1 >> Claudia Norton got the Knights on the board.

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