EAST ROCKHILL >> Preparation transformed into execution, suspense gave away to jubilation, and the Pennridge girls fulfilled their destiny Saturday morning, earning a 1-0 victory over Downingtown East to clinch a spot in the PIAA Class AAAA State Tournament, the Rams’ first state berth since 2012.
“We worked so hard for this,” said senior defender Dani Meenan. “States has been our goal for so long and it feels so great to finally be on the road to getting it.”
“A lot of us have been starters since our sophomore year,” senior midfielder Katie Fischer said, “and we fell short a few times so to get to this point is special.”
Meenan and Fischer were the tandem of the hour, hooking up in the opening minutes of the contest for what would be the winning goal in this District 1-4A quarterfinal, played on a windy but sunny afternoon on the turf at Pennridge High.
“We’ve been playing together for a while now so I know where she’s placing the ball most of the time and it’s all we’ve been working on at practice — corners and set pieces and free kicks just like that,” Fischer said. “So I get a really good feel of where she’s placing it and her consistency’s been pretty good so I was glad I was able to get on the end of it.”
Eleven minutes and eight seconds in, Fischer got to a ball from Meenan, heading it into the left corner and out of the reach of Cougars goalie Courtney Dunlop for a 1-0 Pennridge lead.
“We’ve practiced that set piece so the situation was great,” Rams coach Audrey Anderson said, “and we pride ourselves on our set pieces and our corners, and for us to practice a specific play and for Dani to put that ball right where it went and for Katie to know that that’s where it was going, it couldn’t have been any better.”
Third-seeded Pennridge looked polished and ready.
“We had games during the regular season where we struggled,” said Fischer, whose team will have the weekend to celebrate before getting ready for Wednesday’s semifinal showdown at home against No. 7 Central Bucks South, a 1-0 winner over No. 2 Pennsbury Saturday. “We weren’t sure when we were gonna reach our peak but I think we’re still on our way up right now.
“We have so much speed up top, our midfield is very organized and our backs are probably the best in the area,” Fischer said. “I feel confident in our team and I think we’re just gonna keep getting better.”
Pennridge generated some more scoring chances the rest of the half but the No. 11 Cougars and Dunlop hung in.
“We knew Pennridge is a really deep team,” East coach Craig Reed said. “They’re really deep all over and they have a good coach. So we knew it was gonna be a battle. We weathered the storm for the most part in the first half and I was really proud how we played in the second half.
“The girls showed a lot of character and stepped up, and we pinned (Pennridge) in their half for large portions of the second half. I thought it was a little bit unlucky for us to not get the equalizer but I’m definitely proud of our girls and hats off to Pennridge — they’re a heck of a team.”
East still has life, now looking to get a pair of wins in district playbacks and secure the fifth and final spot in states. The Cougars will play Pennsbury on the road on Wednesday.
“The way we played in the second half, against one of the top teams in the state, we wanna go forward with that and see if we can get these two wins,” Reed said.
In the final 20 minutes, the Rams withstood some pressure from the Cougars to hold tight to the lead, nearly increasing it when a shot by Kennedy Peace sailed just wide of the net, one of the gusts swirling around Helman Field blowing it off course.
But everything else for the Rams stayed true.
“These seniors are special to me,” Anderson said. “I’ve known them since they were 10 years old — I coached a lot of them at the club level. So to share this with them, something we talked about when they were 10 years old, like ‘hey wouldn’t it great if we go to states?,’ here it is.
“It’s something we thought about for such a long time and now it’s here. And I think everyone just feels like ‘wow, we did it.’”