BUCKTOWN >> It took Spring-Ford more than 40 minutes to get its offense on track Tuesday.
But when they did, the Rams took — and did not relinquish — control of the action in their Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four playoff semifinal with Pope John Paul II at Owen J. Roberts’ Wildcat Stadium.
Kept off the scoreboard the entire first half, SF went on a scoring tear in the second. It hit the nets three times in an 11-1/2 minute span, effectively erasing the Golden Panthers’ early lead. The Rams added another goal inside the 10-minute mark to finish off a 4-1 victory and nail down a fourth-straight championship game appearance.
A balanced offense — five players either scoring, or assisting on, goals — put Spring-Ford (13-0-1) into Thursday’s title showdown with Owen J. Roberts, a 5-1 winner over Phoenixville in the day’s other semifinal. And there was no semblance of concern on the side of the Rams, who breezed to first place in the PAC’s Liberty Division during the regular season to claim the division’s top seed.
“I think we just needed to get into the flow of it,” Gabby Kane, who had a goal and assist in the contest, said afterward. “We always finish strong.”
Kane’s conversion of a penalty kick at the 29:29 mark of the second half, ended up Spring-Ford’s ultimate game-winning goal. It came after the Rams ended their drought when KK O’Donnell took a sideline pass from Juliana Alessandroni and booted it past PJP goalkeeper Colleen Morton.
“I’ve taken a couple of penalty kicks already,” Kane said. “I’m really good at them, but we have a lot of girls who can finish them.”
Little more than three minutes later, Kelly Franz hit a straight-on shot at 26:08 for insurance. Then at the 9:26 mark, Mack Mitchell finished off a pass from Kane to close out the game’s scoring.
“It took a bit of time to find ourselves,” SF head coach Tim Leyland said. “PJP did a good job with its defense in space. We had trouble getting past their back line.”
Pope John Paul (10-4), second seed from the Frontier Division, took its lead with less than a minute left in the first half. Kayla Mesaros handled a pass by Kendal Piazza from the home sideline and scored 36 seconds before the half.
But in keeping with their unbeaten stance this season, nobody on the Ram bench was worrying about a loss of that distinction.
“We know we have a good team,” Kane said. “We know we can play and come back strong.”
Once they completed their scoring, the Rams controlled the action at PJP’s end of the field. In the span between its third and fourth goals, Spring-Ford thwarted several attempts by Mesaros to drive the ball toward the its cage.
“We just started playing our game,” Kane noted, “playing for possession.”
The Rams ended up with a 10-3 edge in shots on goal, and goalkeeper Amanda Byrd had just one save for the game. Morton had 10 in the PJP nets.
Spring-Ford and Owen J. will be facing off for the PAC title for the first time in at least a decade. The Rams won both their regular-season meetings — the first by a 3-2 margin in mid-September, the second 3-0 last Thursday.
“We’re on to another one,” Leyland said. “They (OJR) attack well and have great defenders.”
NOTES >> Spring-Ford won back-to-back PAC titles in 2013 and 2014, over Boyertown (2-1) and PJP (3-0). It lost to Boyertown last year, 1-0. … To date, the Rams have outscored the opposition in Final Four matchups by a 19-5 margin. It faces a Roberts program which played for the PAC title six of seven years between 2006 and 2012, but wasn’t in the Final Four the past three go-rounds.