EAST ROCKHILL >> Wissahickon defender Mary Matthews had seen the results.
Her team had lost twice to Quakertown this season, then just last week, the Panthers went to Pennridge and lost by a decent margin. With the Rams up next for Wiss, the history didn’t exude promise for the Trojans.
Pennridge did come out on top Monday afternoon at Helman Field, but it was a much bigger fight than it may have looked to be. The Rams needed extra time, but emerged 2-1 winners in the Suburban One League crossover.
“We came out a little on our heels thinking of our history playing with Wissahickon and it’s something we learned from that we can’t base how we’re going to play off our history,” Pennridge senior center midfielder Savanna Harrison said. “Fortunately we came out with a win. We underestimated but did what we had to do to come get a win.”
“It shows everyone on our team that we’re better than we give ourselves credit for sometimes,” Matthews, a co-captain, said. “Quakertown lost to them 4-0 and we lost to Quakertown twice so coming into it we weren’t that positive but at halftime we saw we could stick with them and potentially even beat them. It didn’t end how we thought it would.”
A ton of credit for that goes to the Trojans’ defense, anchored by Matthews and junior Anna Wilde in the middle. Both center backs were tremendous, keeping up with Pennridge’s plethora of speed and technical ability up top.
Keeper Nicole Hastings was in top form too, making eight big saves on 10 shots and providing the extra eyes and voice her back line, playing up high to lure Pennridge offside, needed.
Hastings had some key plays, coming out to punch a first half cross away before Pennridge’s Erin Stevenson could head it. She also made a stop on Melissa Lyon with 3:06 left in regulation after Lyon got in on a breakaway.
“The communication was really one today, which plays a huge part in it,” Matthews said. “She made a couple of great saves and came out farther than she normally does which helped us a lot, it cut off a lot of options.”
“She’s an extra pair of eyes, she sees what we don’t see behind us,” Wilde said. “It’s great having her there.”
Getting forward was a tough task most of the afternoon for Wissahickon, slowed by Pennridge’s veteran-laden back line and midfield. Senior fullback Rachel Velez shadowed Wiss senior Maddie Elwell for long stretches while central defenders Courtney Supp and Liv Fernandez stuffed up the middle.
Wiss did eventually settle in and start gaining some ground but Pennridge broke through first. A corner kick from right back Dani Meenan landed in golden ground, where Velez was able to knock it in with 11:30 left in the first half.
Meenan had another good chance when she jumped a pass along the Wiss backline and fired, but was stopped by Hastings.
Wiss seemed heading to the half down a goal, but Elwell opted to chance one from distance. The senior’s strike from 30 yards away on the left side was true, dipping under the ball to level the score with 59 seconds left in the half.
“Our defense did a great job today,” Harrison said. “It was about how our midfield and backs, and even the forwards, just working together and building together. It was team effort for sure.
“We talked about how we can’t come out sitting on our heels again and we had to get ourselves pumped up and think about how it was a new half and a new start.”
The Rams were more dangerous in the second half, but every chance was thwarted by Wissahickon, either with Hastings making a stop or one of the defenders getting in front of a shot or making a tackle. Wilde had a big block in the second half, tracking back far down the field and getting her body between the net and a shot by Kennedy Peace.\
Both Matthews and Wilde said part of the success defensively was the ability to play the ball out of the back calmly and without panic. That wasn’t a strength of the group at the start of the season, but the backs are good at moving the ball and building, which keeps possession instead of just kicking it far and hoping the opposition doesn’t just charge right back down.
“We fought to the end and didn’t get the result we hoped for but everyone put forth all they had to the end,” Wilde said. “I’m very proud of our effort.”
Wissahickon’s only shot of the second half came when Rachel Coleman headed a free kick right to Rams keeper Kaitlyn Moran.
Harrison attributed the second half effort to the Rams getting their work rate up and playing more of their brand of soccer. But they still couldn’t crack the Wissahickon defense, with Erin Stevenson having a couple of takes from distance saved and Piper Zimmerman having an effort denied by Hastings.
Finally in overtime, Peace got loose down the right side, found the endline and whipped a low cross back across goal, where Ashley Groeber met it on a smart run and tapped it into the open net with 8:08 left in the period.
Pennridge, which was the No. 4 team in the latest District I power rankings, will likely host a team like Wissahickon in its first playoff game. Getting a lesson in how to handle a game adversary could benefit the Rams.
“All these games matter,” Harrison said. “It puts us in a good seeding and they’re really important to us. It’s a lesson that we can’t be caught back on our heels because if we come into playoffs like that, we’ll be eliminated very quickly.”
For both teams, the recovery will be quick, with Pennridge facing William Tennent on Tuesday and Wissahickon hosting Upper Moreland. Wissahickon has three more games this week and as the No. 16 team in the rankings, will want to win all three as it tries to get a first-round home playoff game.
“We know it’s crucial for us to win the rest of our games to get us where we want to be,” Matthews said. “If we can keep up with a team like this, the rest of it should be pretty easy.”
WISSAHICKON 1 0 0 – 1
PENNRIDGE 1 0 1 – 2
Goals: W- Maddie Elwell 39’, P – Rachel Velez (Dani Meenan) 28’, Ashley Groeber (Kennedy Peace) 81’. Shots: W – 2, P – 10. Corners: W – 0, P – 2. Saves: W – Nicole Hastings 8, W – Kaitlyn Moran 1.
Top Photo: Pennridge’s Erin Stevenson blocks the ball during the Rams’ game against Wissahickon on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. (Jeff Davis/For Digital First Media)