NETHER PROVIDENCE >> There was a point during her team’s 3-1 victory over Strath Haven in the second round of the District 1 Class 2A field hockey playoffs Wednesday afternoon that Bishop Shanahan coach Nancy Roselli wondered if the Eagles were ever going to score.
Seniors Emma Velez and Paige Plevyak also were unsure if the 10th-seeded Eagles were going to solve the mystery that was Strath Haven goalie Gillian Gunn.
“She was very good,” Roselli said.
Gunn was brilliant, and one of the reasons the seventh-seeded Panthers (12-7) had a 1-0 halftime lead. The senior stopped 14 shots in the first half and finished with 29 saves.
“Awesome job, goalie,” Shanahan defender Leigh Roselli said to Gunn as the two exchanged high-fives after the game.
As good as Gunn and the Strath Haven defense was, though, they could not keep the Panthers alive in the district tournament. Velez, Plevyak and Megan Gallagher eventually found the back of the cage to send the Eaglies into the quarterfinals.
Bishop Shanahan’s reward is another road game, this time at second-seeded Mount St. Joseph Friday afternoon. The Magic knocked off Penncrest, 3-0, to keep their district championship hopes alive. It’s one round farther than the Eagles went last year and two rounds deeper than Shanahan went in 2014.
“We’re excited,” Velez said.
Strath Haven took advantage of Gunn’s brilliant play and a goal by sophomore Ashley Hassell off a pass from fellow soph Chloe Blessington 8:53 into the contest to take a 1-0 lead.
Shanahan had many opportunities. Plevyak was stoned on two breakaways. The Eagles also had seven corners in the first half and came away with nothing.
“We talked about how we had to move the goalie, use our teammates, pass to each other,” Nancy Roselli said. “It’s a novel concept.”
But one that worked. Velez got Shanahan even when she blasted a shot home from the top of the circle on a corner with 25 minutes, 49 seconds to go in the game. Gunn never had a chance.
“It was a great shot by her,” Gunn said.
Shanahan’s bench rightly went wild.
“It broke the dam, so to speak,” Roselli said of the goal by Velez.
That it came off of a corner was doubly pleasing for the Eagles. The goal, which came off a pass from senior Kelly Caneimo, came on Shanhan’s 10th corner of the game. The Eagles would finish with 15 corners to just two for the Panthers.
“Corners are a struggle for us,” Plevyak said. “We practice them constantly, it just takes a little while to find which corner to use in the game because the other team adapts to what we’re doing.”
The adjustment this time was to put Velez at the top of the circle and blast away after she received the pass from fellow senior Kelly Canceimo.
“They were reading us pretty well,” Velez said of Strath Haven’s defense. “They were seeing what we were doing so we had to adjust every time. We finally got it to the point where we put on one.”
Shanahan did not stay with that formula on corners. The Eagles continued to mix it up to keep the Strath Haven defense guessing. That was one of the many adjustments Roselli made at halftime. The other big change was how to attack Gunn. That also paid off.
Plevyak broke the 1-1 deadlock when she put home a pass from Velez 3:06 after Velez had scored the equalizer.
“The satisfying part is that it puts us up by one goal,” Plevyak said. “But it also was satisfying to put one in even though I fumbled the ball. I proved to myself that I can actually score after I fumble the ball like that. It meant a lot to more.”
Down a goal and with the season on the line Strath Haven put as much pressure on the Eagles as possible. However, Shanahan’s defense, with goalie Caressa Gentile leading the way, was up to the task. Gentile made all five of her saves in the second half and what she did not stop, the defense did.
“They came together nicely as a team today,” Roselli said.
“We like to joke that we’re a second-half team because we always seem to put it into overdrive in the second half. Today was one of those days. It took us a little time to get warmed up. Once we felt confident as a team we really brought it together.”
Gunn and the Strath Haven defense had a lot to do with Shanahan’s early lack of confidence.
“I thought our defense was stellar,” Panthers coach Carly Reid said. “We knew they could score just by looking at their scores. They scored three goals on Conestoga (in a 6-3 loss to the Pioneers) so for us to hold them to three goals was a moral victory. Our kids played hard. The chips just did not fall our way.”
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