LANGHORNE >> Facing top-seeded Neshaminy in a District 1 Class 4A semifinal Wednesday night, Nov. 2 at Harry Franks Stadium, the bus carrying the Conestoga team arrived a little late to the matchup in Bucks County.
While acknowledging that their late arrival didn’t affect his fourth-seeded Pioneers, first-year head coach Ben Wilson admitted his team never caught up to the Lady Skins (19-1-1), who are headed to their first District 1 championship under third-year coach Chelsea Lovelace.
“Neshaminy deserved to win,” admitted Wilson, after Conestoga lost 1-0 in overtime at Heartbreak Ridge.
“The level that we were playing at isn’t the level at which we normally play.
“We were just a step slow tonight – a step slow to all the 50-50 (balls).
“It’s been a long season. Eventually, these games catch up with you.”
Neshaminy was certainly psyched to go be headed to a district championship game. While the Skins won states just three years ago under former coach Rachel Clemens, theres just three players left from that team – seniors Maggie Daeche, Riley Nyhus and Alyssa Tobin.
“We’re juniors so this is the furthest we’ve gone so we’re so happy right now,” exclaimed midfielder Jackie Ziegler, speaking for the Class of 2018. “We’re just ecstatic.”
After Neshaminy failed to capitalize on several scoring chances in the first 15 minutes, the Pioneers (15-2-4) seemed quite content playing the Skins in a midfield game. Defensively, the strategy worked for the Central Division runner-up Conestoga, which held Neshaminy scoreless – for the first 80 minutes.
“They’re content playing the ball around and then they kind of look for a defensive error to try to find a goal,” said Lovelace. “I think there was a couple times where we did lose our focus in the back but I think we took care of it for the most part.”
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, they couldn’t keep the ‘Skins from scoring in the extra session. Finally breaking a scoreless tie just 4:43 into overtime, Neshaminy freshman Kristin Curley cut through the ice on a set-piece, getting on the end of a throw-in from junior Jenna Obringer.
Curley took a flick from sophomore Brooke Mullin and top-shelfed a ball from the top of the box for the game’s only goal, sending the Skins to Saturday’s D-1 championship against No. 3 Pennridge, which needed a 10-round penalty kicks session to get past seventh-seeded CB South. The title tilt is set for 6 p.m at Phoenixville, immediately following Villa Jo Marie’s AAA championship vs. Penncrest.
“This feels great,” said Lovelace. “We told the girls you’ve come this far and have gotten through the hard part. You might as well put in the work and get all the way to the finals.”
“It wasn’t a pretty game but we found a way. That’s how the playoffs are so we’re proud of them.
“We finally found a goal – it came late but a goal is a goal.”
The Titans will be Conestoga’s next opponent and the Pioneers will host the Central Bucks team, also on Saturday, in a battle for third place. Either way, ‘Stoga is also headed to states. If they win Saturday, they take on the District 1 champ on Tuesday, Nov. 8 in a PIAA opener. Lose, and they face the District 12 champion in the first round of states.
In this game, the best chance for either team to score in regulation came in the final minutes of the second half. With seven minutes remaining, Conestoga junior reserve midfielder Emily Maneri blasted a wicked shot in on the Skins goal that Neshaminy sophomore keeper Riley Spingler put a stop to.
“Maneri’s been great,” said Wilson. “She started out the season not playing a whole lot; she actually had mono at the beginning of the season and that really affected her.
“But as the season has gone on, she’s just been getting more and more playing time.
“Since we’ve been in the playoffs, she’s really coming to life. Her pressuring up top and in attacking mid – wherever she’s at – I think it’s a real game-changer for us.”
A minute and a half after Maneri’s chance went for not, Skins starting midfielder Jackie Ziegler tried to push a ball through that was standing on the crease of the Conestoga goal. Pioneers senior goalkeeper was up to the task, however, stonewalling the junior middie for Neshaminy with Mullin – the leading scorer for the Skins – standing on the doorstep.
“We got a cross in and it was on the near post so I ran across,” said Ziegler. “A defender hit it and I hit it, the goalie hit it and I ended up shooting it just a little bit wide.”
Conestoga’s defense certainly posed a problem for Neshaminy in this one.
“Every time that we tried to get a cross off, they would ricochet and block it, give up throw-ins from the corner,” added Ziegler. “Nothing across the box, for free.”
A team that won just five games last season, Conestoga punched its ticket to states with a D-1 quarterfinal win over fifth-seeded Spring-Ford last Saturday. After a scoreless first half, freshman Caitlin Donovan – the leading scorer for the Pioneers – tallied the game-winner and junior Ariel Loevy provided an insurance goal with under 14 minutes remaining.
Conestoga junior Rachel DiRico recorded the game’s only goal in the Pioneers’ D-1 playoff opening win over No. 13 Haverford.
NOTES: In 2013, then Neshaminy senior Megan Schafer led the Skins to a perfect 25-0 season. Schafer is now a junior at Penn State and one of the top scorers for the Nittany Lions.
Neshaminy , Conestoga
(Nov. 2 at Neshminy)
NESHAMINY 0 0 1 – 1
CONESTOGA 0 0 0 – 0
Goals: N – Kristin Curley, from Brooke Mullin, 85th minute; C – none.