NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Margot Hotham’s first reaction was sheepish surprise Tuesday night.
For 53 minutes, her Strath Haven team had pressured Springfield but couldn’t find a crack in the Cougars’ armor. So when Hotham’s low shot across the face of goal from the left channel beat goalie Shannon Cutcliff and helped the Panthers bust through that wall, it took a moment to set in.
“I was just shocked,” said Hotham of the first of her two goals that helped the Panthers to a 3-0, Central League-title-clinching win.
“Obviously I wanted to score, but I had missed a few times, but I finally made it and I was kind of shocked in the moment. Then I saw people running at me, and I was really excited.”
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) October 19, 2016
The victory earns the Panthers (12-3-1, 10-0-1) their second straight Central League title and sixth crown in seven years. They had it all to do Tuesday, with a potential loss handing the title to Conestoga after its 3-2 win over Lower Merion Monday and a draw splitting the title.
But Hotham kept those hypotheticals under wraps with her brace, both of which owed to the inspiration of Lizzie King.
The reigning Daily Times Player of the Year, long a poacher grabbing goals by the bunch, has added layers to her game this year with her ability to set up others. In the 53rd, as Springfield’s defense collapsed on her at the top of the box, King touched a diagonal feed into the left channel that Hotham ripped into the wide side of the net.
King did the providing in the 73rd, her flicked-on pass of a Maddie Ruffini long ball springing Hotham. The first attempt was denied by a sprawling Cutcliff, but Hotham was quickest to the rebound, tucking it away to put the game out of reach.
“Amazing. She just knows where to play it exactly,” Hotham said of King. “I think that she’s assisted almost every goal I’ve had this year. She’s insane.”
King finished the scoring four minutes from time, fielding a long ball from Morgan Crain near the right corner flag, twisting a defender this way and that and rocketing a left-footed shot over Cutcliff to set off the celebrations.
Lizzie King seals it! Heck of a left footer. Morgan Crain played her in. 3-0 Panthers. 4 minutes left. pic.twitter.com/k6kTL3tTXZ
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) October 19, 2016
For more than a half, Springfield (9-7-1, 5-5-1) held its own in its season-finale, a game the Cougars needed to win for a realistic shot of making the playoffs. Springfield entered ranked 26th in the latest District 1 Class 4A rankings, with the top 24 qualifying.
They weathered a strong start from Strath Haven that yielded six corner kicks and six shots in 15 minutes with a lineup of 10 seniors, including King, Crain, Ruffini and sparkplug fullback Daniela Paxman.
But the Cougars also created chances. They forced five saves from goalie Carly Perlman, including a pair of sharp-angle drives from Bridget Whitaker that forced some anxious moments.
“In the middle there, we definitely were pushing and pushing,” Whitaker said. “We changed our strategy during halftime to try to keep pushing. I thought we did a really good job against them. We held them.”
Hotham heads just over! Maddie Forbes played the bouncing ball in. pic.twitter.com/SOBwnqCt7t
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) October 18, 2016
Strath Haven’s pressured consistently, pinning back Springfield’s wingers. That left Whitaker and fellow forward Julie Schickling widely spaced on the field and often going it alone against a defense that had them outnumbered.
“I think one of our best qualities is we’re able to adjust pretty quickly to any style of play,” center back Kacy Hafertepe said. “So I don’t really think it’s a problem. Our defense can adjust quickly.”
Cutcliff made a beauty of a save just before halftime on a King drive ticketed for the top corner. Maddie Forbes placed chances just wide of the target on either side of halftime, and Crain squandered a look over the bar with Cutcliff moving side-to-side in the first half.
Springfield, which started three sophomores and four freshmen and played the same 11 start to finish, enjoyed a significant jump from two wins to nine Brian Coleman’s first year, particularly given the level of youth leaned upon.
“Oh I think it’s going to skyrocket,” said Whitaker, one of only two seniors to play Tuesday. “I think we’re going to be amazing in the next year, and I think this year we proved it.”
As for Strath Haven, senior night offered the current crop a chance to join the long list of upperclassmen to lift a Central League title.
That’s become the expectation, year after year, regardless of the losses to graduation, for Gino Miraglia’s program. And no matter how often they achieve the goal, it’s still special to the players to set such a high standard and meet it.
“Honestly, it’s a tradition,” Hafetepe said. “I always think of it like that. It’s our title to defend every year, and so it’s always so special every year getting it. We deserve it for sure.”
Also in the Central League:
Ridley 3, Upper Darby 1 >> Vicky Zielke, Amaya Impriano and Gianna Volpone scored for the Green Raiders.
Jaclyn Castell got the Royals’ goal, while Alyssa Hanrahan stopped nine shots.
Penncrest 3, Harriton 0 >> Gia Martyn set up goals by Logan Morris and Tara Higgins, and Kenna Kaut finished the third goal off Morris’s set up for the Lions (11-1-3, 7-1-3).
Bryn McLaughlin made five saves for Penncrest’s 11th shutout of the season.
Garnet Valley 1, Radnor 1 >> Nicole Barnes scored for the Jags, who got seven saves from Ashley Bufano.
Maura Holst got on the board for Radnor. Anna Gurian made six saves.
In the Catholic League:
Cardinal O’Hara 3, Bonner & Prendergast 2 >> Maura Hendrixson and Michelle Matteo scored early in the second half to help the No. 8 seed Lions wrest control of the Catholic League play-in game.
Bonner & Prendergast’s Catriona Corrigan had opened the scoring, but O’Hara’s Emily McGuire pegged that tally back five minutes before halftime. A goal by Meghan Campbell got No. 9 Bonner & Prendie back within a goal, but five saves from O’Hara’s Kerry Patterson helped the Lions book a date with top-seeded Lansdale Catholic Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Bonner & Prendie’s Kayla McLaughlin made 10 saves.
In the Inter-Ac League:
Episcopal Academy 2, Agnes Irwin 0 >> Lilly Shaner converted a first-half penalty kick, and Olivia Dirks finished off a through ball from Brooke Royer in the second half. Morgan Messner made five saves in the shutout for EA.
Kendal Shein denied 13 shots for the Owls.
In the Bicentennial League:
Delco Christian 2, Christian Academy 0 >> Alex Thompson scored both markers, and Ronnie Marie Falasco made eight saves in goal for the Knights.