HAVERFORD >> As the ball bounded off Ali Murphy’s head Tuesday night, the sophomore didn’t need to see where the shot landed.
Everyone else on the field at Haverford High’s A.G. Cornog Stadium was transfixed by the looping trajectory, arcing gently toward an open goal. But Murphy was already looking for a teammate to hug in celebration.
The Haverford winger knew she had headed it true the moment she connected on Grace Drames’ cross — and a moment before she absorbed a collision with a West Chester Rustin defender and goalie Nicole Cousens — as the Fords earned a 2-1 win in overtime of the opening round of the District 1 Class 4A soccer tournament.
“Right when I headed it, I knew it was going in,” Murphy said. “So I just turned around and ran toward everyone on my team and hugged them all.”
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) October 26, 2016
The victory moves the No. 13 Fords (15-3-1) to the second round Thursday against No. 4 Conestoga, which beat the Fords 2-1 in their regular season meeting. It’s also, according to coach Alexandra Hill, the program’s first postseason win, at least in recent memory.
It seems fitting that a defender contributed to the winner on a team that Tuesday allowed just its seventh goal of the season. The left back Drames, after a throw-in was knocked back into her path, lofted a high-arcing cross to the far post in the 90th minute. It took a bounce in the box, the cardinal sin of defending, and fell back to earth upon the waiting head of Murphy.
The winger hurled herself at the ball, and with Cousens charging off her line a hair late, Murphy had plenty to shoot for on a ball that hit over the line and hopped up to tickle the netting, setting off a stampede of jacketed joy from the bench.
“Usually we work on diagonal balls in practice, so when Grace hit it as a back defender, I knew it was going to go towards me and I just headed it in,” Murphy said. “I knew the goalie was coming out so she was going to leave the goal open so I had to head it over her.”
“I saw Ali running in, and I know she’s good with her head, so I was counting on her to just finish that and she did,” Drames said. “I was happy that she did.”
The Fords had the better of play in overtime, but they missed a golden chance five minutes before the goal, when Annalena O’Reilly played in Amelia Durfee behind the defense. Durfee’s shot trickled, though, agonizingly wide of the post, a missed chance that the Fords didn’t rue.
O’Reilly opened the scoring less than two minutes into the second half on a stirring strike from the top of the 18. Nora Janzer slipped her in behind on a 2-on-1, and O’Reilly blasted a high shot Cousens couldn’t handle.
With 38 minutes to defend a lead, the challenge was clearly set for Haverford’s defense. They got through the first 20-some minutes, but eventually Kendall Ammerman beat the Fords’ offside trap in the 68th.
The backline of Drames, Maddie Santoro, Clare Janzer and Brianna Blair had effectively maintained a high line to repel Ammerman’s speed on through balls. But they slumped for a brief moment, allowing Ammerman to latch onto a long ball from left back Emily Betchyk, bomb in alone on goalie Alison Durfee and rifle a shot low and hard to Durfee’s right.
Both sides grappled with adjustments. For Ammerman and No. 20 seed Rustin (11-8), it was acclimating to the offside trap with a changed formation, putting Ammerman alone up top. Drames and her backline, meanwhile, had to grasp Ammerman’s tendencies. Once they did, the load lightened.
“At first it was really difficult, but then I noticed how (Ammerman) wanted to get the ball by her and she wanted to turn with it,” Drames said. “Once I realized that, it was easy to poke it away or to let Maddie, when she was running down, would slide it down as fast as she could.”
Rustin could’ve effectively ended the game with four minutes to play, but a shot from Dominique Simone from the top of the box smacked the crossbar, then ricocheted back to her for a shot that sailed over the bar.
That didn’t help Ammerman’s postgame sense of foreboding. The last two years, Rustin has drawn the district’s third seed and a bye before being eliminated by one of the Council Rocks. Tuesday added to that misery.
“We trained really hard,” Ammerman said. “We didn’t really do anything differently. But there’s a curse on the playoffs for us, and we tried to beat it, but not this year.”
The Fords, meanwhile, reversed the sour taste of an overtime ouster last year against Strath Haven. And the reward is a chance to knock off another Central League elite in Conestoga Thursday.
“I was counting on this game, winning this, so we can redeem ourselves from the Conestoga game,” Drames said. “We’re going to come back against Conestoga even stronger than we did before.”