FRANCONIA >> Nearly 60 minutes of soccer had gone by and with her team somehow having not yet scored, Pennridge senior Erin Stevenson had seen enough.
Stevenson picked up the ball just past midfield, took about six touches to work her way down the field and at the edge of the box, she it let it rip. This time, there was nothing Stroudsburg could do to stop it.
Stevenson’s goal opened the gates as Pennridge topped Stroudsburg 3-0 in their first-round PIAA girls’ Class AAAA soccer game at Souderton on Tuesday.
“I didn’t smile after my goal,” Stevenson said. “Having so many shots on a keeper and not scoring, it puts more weight on your shoulders. After that goal, I think it put us in a better place and gave us more momentum going forward.”
Stroudsburg, the District 11 runner-up, made life miserable for the Pennridge attack and midfield before Stevenson broke through with 21:57 to play. The Mountaineers played with seven or eight players behind the ball and didn’t register a single shot on goal, sitting in and trying to endure the storm.
For a while they did, with goalkeeper April Manhart making 16 saves for the game, several of them exceptional and her defenders finding a way to get a body part in front of a lot of Pennridge’s shots. The Rams also weren’t quite themselves in the first half, playing a little conservatively in their first state game.
“It was a combination of not knowing what to expect, not wanting to make a mistake and not wanting to get beaten on a counter,” Pennridge coach Audrey Anderson said. “We’re used to playing very high-pressure offenses where we can’t always have one of our holding center midfielders. They weren’t used to having that space in front.”
The Rams center midfield trio of Stevenson, Katie Fischer and Savanna Harrison did their jobs in terms of winning tackles, balls in the air and controlling possession, but they couldn’t get that link down offensively.
Things between them and the forwards just weren’t there in the first half.
“We weren’t reading each other right,” Fischer said. “Their runs weren’t where we wanted them to be or we weren’t playing the ball where they wanted it. It took time to figure ourselves out a little bit.”
“Our midfield always plays it kind of safe and we’re really defensive-minded,” Harrison said. “But Aud really wanted us to have two pushing up to get more shots off and to get more balls to the forwards.”
Having been shutout against Neshaminy in the District 1 title game then adding 40 more minutes of being shutout, Fischer said there was a little bit of panic on the field just before the half. But after talking things out and realizing they were the better team, the Rams calmed down and started the second half by shelling the fort Stroudsburg had built for itself.
The only issue was they couldn’t seem to score. There were shots coming from every way possible and Kouri Peace was especially unlucky, having one parried away by a diving Manhart then getting another somehow cleared off the line after she hit it off Manhart’s gloves and the post.
“Sometimes we try to do too much extra stuff but I think our effort tonight was just better,” Stevenson said.
“Aud mentioned in the halftime speech we needed to settle it down and not try to do too much in the midfield,” Harrison added. “Once she said that we were able to recognize and reflect then fix our mistakes.”
Once Stevenson scored, the gates were open.
Kennedy Peace, who like her sister had been denied a few times, put one away with 19:01 to play, about three minutes after Stevenson’s tally. Sophomore Sarah Williams provided the final margin with a penalty kick with 14:05 left, awarded after yet another blocked shot was hit down by a Stroudsburg player’s arm.
Pennridge faces District 3 champion Cumberland Valley on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
“When we play our game, we think we can play with any team,” Fischer said. “Cumberland Valley has players who are good with the ball at their feet but we feel on our team anyone can be a weapon.”
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