FALLS TWP. – You could hardly blame the Pennsbury seniors for being distraught after seeing their season slip away in a 1-0 loss to Ches-Mont League rival Downingtown East.
While the three-time Suburban One National League champs fought through one injury after another this season, in the end, the missing players just caught up with the Lady Falcons.
That didn’t stop the Orange and Black from putting forth their best effort in a District 1 Class 4A playback vs. 11th-seeded Downingtown East (16-5-1) Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 2 on Pennsbury’s home pitch.
Trailing 1-0 on a lone goal tallied on a free kick by DE junior fullback Taylor Platt, the second-seeded Falcons (16-3) threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Cougars, especially in the second half.
Outshot 3-1 in the first period, Pennsbury spent most of the final 40 minutes pounding the Downingtown goal. It was to no avail.
“We were just unable to put one in the back of the net,” said junior Hope Drewes. “We came out much stronger in the second half but we just couldn’t see it through.”
“We can’t do anything to plan how the game’s going to end but we can try our best to do what we can to win it,” added sophomore Christine Cataldo-Smith.
“Sometimes, the ball just bounces the wrong way. It’s on the goal line and it just doesn’t bounce in.”
As if it wasn’t bad enough that senior forward Cara Thomas – a big spark on offense – was held out of the lineup after sustaining an injury in the team’s opening playoff win over Boyertown, the Falcons had to endure even more damage when junior goalkeeper Kerry Phillips went down with a possible concussion after a collision involving Downingtown captain Brenna Warren midway through the first period.
Eight minutes later, the Cougars notched the only goal they’d need to advance to Saturday’s fifth-place matchup against No. 5 seed Spring-Ford, a 2-1 winner over No. 9 seed Downingtown West.
Try as she might, there was little Pennsbury sophomore goalkeeper Alyssa O’Driscoll could do to reach a ball launched from 35 yards out on a free kick by Platt in the 29th minute of play.
“There’s nothing you can do about those,” said Cataldo-Smith. “It was one good shot.”
Even Platt admitted the shot was lucky.
“I was just aiming for the goal,” said Platt. “It was just lucky that it went over the goalie.”
Time and again in this one, Pennsbury kept pushing in its attempt to obtain an equalizer.
In the 57th minute, Cataldo-Smith might have had the Falcons’ best chance to score when she shot wide right on a shot from inside the 10 yard line. With 4:30 to go, she put a ball past Cougars keeper Courtney Dunlop, only to see Downingtown defender Emily Wurzel sweep it away.
A header by senior Meridith Webber off a throw-in from Drewes went over the net in the 62nd minute of play. With 11 minutes remaining, Whitney Roth’s shot across the goal mouth came oh so close but caromed harmlessly away.
“We knew they were going to come out in the second half and try to get a goal and then get another one,” said Platt. “But we kept shutting them down – not letting them take shots.”
For the Falcons, their season ends at 15-3. Not bad, considering all that Pennsbury had to endure to reach the finish line. For starters, the Falcons entered the season without seniors Riley Rudd, Caroline Foley and Kelly Amador. All three were injured in the offseason after garnering All-Suburban One National League honors in 2015.
And when Thomas went down, that really tightened the screws, especially on offense.
“It puts more pressure on everyone else,” admitted Cataldo-Smith.
“When one player goes down, we know we have to step up to help out the team.”
When the injuries began to mount, the players DID answer the call. Pennsbury got significant contributions from the junior class, especially Drewes, Roth, Lizzy Kirk, Jenna Peters, Kelsey Butler and Dani Cady.
Adding insult to injury, Webber had to sit five of the final seven minutes after being hit with a yellow card after a seemingly innocent collision near midfield.
“She wants to do everything she can to be on the field and make a difference,” said Falcons head coach Kaitlyn Battiste. “Taking her out is a tough one to overcome.”
“It’s the end of the season so you try to look for the positives and the teachable moments.”
“But it hurts when you have such a group of seniors who have put this team in a position to be successful year after year.”
In addition to Webber and Thomas, Pennsbury says goodbye to Maddie Annan, co-captain Rachel Beri – who got her head on a corner kick by Peters with 3:30 remaining, Avery Huston, Bri McDonald, Laurel Perkins and co-captain Jo Tennant.
“They’ve really made it a goal to be competitors but also to make this a family,” explained Battiste.
“They have played the game with respect and with class and they come out and they work hard every single practice and every single game. It really defined a positive culture for this program.”
With three straight league titles under their belts, there’s no reason to believe Pennsbury can’t come back next year and win a fourth. In addition to a talented junior class, the Falcons got contributions this season from sophomores such as Cataldo-Smith an O’Driscoll along with freshmen Gabby Zalot and Rosie Bostian.
District 1-AAAA Playback
Downingtown East 1, Pennsbury 0
(Nov. 2 at Pennsbury)
DOWNINGTOWN EAST 0 0 – 0
PENNSBURY 1 0 – 1
First-Half Goals: DE — Taylor Platt, unassisted, 29th minute; P — none.
SHOTS: P — 7; DE — 5.
RECORDS: P — 16-3; DE — 16-5-1.