EAST ROCKHILL >> As the Pennridge girls soccer team was announcing its order of penalty kick shooters, a couple of players found goalkeeper Mary Kate Levush and gave her a little encouragement.
After all, she was in a pretty unenviable spot, trying to win a shootout against one of the area’s best goalkeepers in Central Bucks South senior Sophia Boggs. Levush, a sophomore, isn’t even the Rams full-time starter, having split time with senior Kaitlyn Moran all year.
But she had kept her team in the game for 110 minutes and her teammates had confidence she was going to see them through this.
“They said ‘just relax, that’s all you can do,’” Levush said. “Keepers aren’t supposed to save PK shots. A lot of times it’s impossible. I just got lucky.”
Levush saved the last two South PKs of a nine-round marathon as Pennridge advanced to the District 1 Class AAAA final with a 7-6 win in the shootout after a 1-1 double-overtime draw with the Titans at Helman Field Wednesday night.
It was the third meeting between the Suburban One League Continental Conference teams this season, each having won on their home field in the regular season. Pennridge, which finished with an unbeaten record at home this year, faces top-seeded Neshaminy at 6 p.m. Saturday at Phoenixville High School. The Rams last won a district title in 2011.
The first 30 minutes were exactly what was expected of two teams that have seen a lot of each other in recent seasons. First South would try to press up, only to be shut down by Pennridge. Then the Rams would go forward, only to have a leg or torso from a Titan block a final pass in.
“It’s very frustrating as a forward but it leaves a lot of opportunities for our midfield,” senior forward Melissa Lyon said. “What I like about our midfield is that they’re able to find the gaps. Sav (Harrison), Katie (Fischer), Erin (Stevenson), they can just find the spots where there’s no one and it’s nice having that.”
South right winger Corinne McDonald was a presence in the first half, able to get down the touchline and put in two really good crosses. The first found Morgan Hilton for a half-volley saved by Levush and the second, which started South’s push the last 10 minutes, was a shade too high for Aleksa Peev.
Abby Groff the hero to send Pennridge to district final with this PK pic.twitter.com/nXw5AiY5kH
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) November 3, 2016
The center of the field was a battlefield, everything contested, a lot of jostling and very few clean passes between either team. Pennridge left back Dani Meenan was involved getting the ball up, but the Rams couldn’t find a link to play a forward in.
South did make a concerted push the last 10 minutes and looked very dangerous a couple of times. Chelsea Nichols had a solid cross that was punched away by Levush and central defender Courtney Taylor fired wide twice from distance.
“We needed to put one or two more of those balls away,” South coach Betsy Bullock said. “You finish those opportunities then you don’t go to penalty kicks.”
The second half started out with a much different tone. Pennridge was on the attack from the onset despite sophomore forward Kouri Peace going down after tweaking her ankle.
In came Sarah Williams and the young forward was a spark, getting in alone after a defender slipped and forcing South keeper Boggs into a great leaping save. However, Boggs had to concede a corner to make the save and off Meenan’s service, the ball found Stevensom who was able to turn and play in Lyon. Lyon was able to fire low and far post, beating Boggs with 34:54 left.
“I sit back a little bit in the middle and when it bopped out to Erin, I saw a little opening,” Lyon said. “I didn’t know if she saw it, but thankfully she did and it was just one-touch, I saw the corner and took it.”
The Rams’ lead didn’t last too long though as Peev was able to give Nichols a ball about 30 yards out. Nichols shook a defender and fired from about 25 yards away, burying the chance past Levush with 28:56 to go.
The Rams regained composure quickly and put the pressure back on. But Boggs proved her standing as one of the area’s best keepers with a couple of excellent plays in the final 20 minutes.
She read a great ball by Stevenson to Piper Zimmerman, keeping it from becoming dangerous. With 4:52 left, the senior made an incredible leaping save to push a long shot by Rachel Velez over the bar.
Finally, in the waning moments, she made a surging run off her line and slid to kick the ball away from Kennedy Peace near the top of the box.
“We knew coming in, and I’m sure South felt the same way, that it was going to be a nail-biter,” Pennridge coach Audrey Anderson said. “In my head, I felt it was going to come down to PKs. We were prepared for PKs, we practice them every single day, I just wasn’t sure of the rotation.”
GIRLS SOCCER 34;54 2nd half: Pennridge 1, CB South 0
Melissa Lyon finishes off a corner pic.twitter.com/6XRnbfOzV5
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) November 3, 2016
The two overtime sessions had a couple of chances, but it just seemed like neither team was going to score in the extra 30 minutes.
South went first in the penalty shootout. It seemed like the Rams caught a huge break when South’s second shooter fired wide, but Boggs got her team back into it with a save in the fourth round of kicks and after both shooters made in the fifth round, it brought up the one-and-done rounds.
Levush made her first save on the eighth shooter, but the Rams couldn’t win it when their following try went high. It was no matter for the sophomore keeper, who just made another save in the ninth round.
“The first shot went to my right, the second and third went to my left but after that they kept shooting right and that’s how I picked it up,” Levush said. “It upped my confidence that I could get to them. It’s not easy, they were all shot to the side-netting so they’re hard to get to.”
After the second save, Pennridge sent Abby Groff to the line. A high energy forward off the bench, Groff placed her PK well and set off the Rams’ celebration.
“I knew if I were to make it, we would win,” Groff said. “But if I missed, we would still be in a tie so there was less pressure, but I still really wanted to make it.
“(Boggs is) such an amazing goalkeeper, I was nervous going up against her but I shoot to score. I know where I’m going so I just try to nail it.”
CB SOUTH 0 1 0 0 – 1 (6)
PENNRIDGE 0 1 0 0 – 1 (7)
Goals: CBS – Chelsea Nichols (Aleksa Peev); P- Melissa Lyon (Erin Stevenson). Shots: CBS – 7, Pennridge 7. Corners: CBS – 2, P – 6. Saves: CBS – Sophia Boggs 6, P – Mary Kate Levush 6