EXETER TWP. >> People who know soccer will often spout off about how cruel the sport can be.
What happened to the Pennridge girls soccer team Saturday night at Exeter Township in the PIAA AAAA quarterfinals seemed far more than cruel. For 79:59, the Rams stood toe-to-toe with a state powerhouse Cumberland Valley and gave the Eagles everything.
For 79:59, Pennridge put forth a remarkable effort against a team some said the Rams had no chance against. For 79:59, there was a feeling that maybe, just maybe, the Rams were going to pull something off.
One second changed everything.
CV’s Devan Knoll scored the lone goal of a 1-0 win with one second left on the clock, tearing out the heart of every Rams player and coach, ending Pennridge’s season in the cruelest way possible.
“It was a heck of a game, it’s just one unlucky thing that happened through the entire game and it’s unfortunate it happened in those last two seconds,” Rams senior co-captain Erin Stevenson said, fighting valiantly to contain tears. “We played our hearts out tonight. I’m so glad my team got this far. We worked so hard getting here. After going out the first or second round (of districts) the last three years, getting this far I couldn’t have asked for anything else.”
Stevenson was outstanding in her last high school game. So was every other player in a Pennridge uniform who stepped on the field. Whether it was senior Piper Zimmerman, pressed into a starting role, playing inspired on both sides of the ball, senior Melissa Lyon flying up and down the field to defend and attack or sophomore Kouri Peace trying everything she could to create something for her team, the Rams showed they were there to win.
Cumberland Valley presents many, many challenges but chief among them is their special junior Rachael Dorwart, already committed to North Carolina. Trying to stop the gifted forward was a task not for one player but the entire back line and it’s one the Rams defenders – Rachel Velez, Dani Meenan, Olivia Fernandez and Courtney Supp – were game for.
“Their four backs worked their butts off following Rachael all over the place tonight,” CV coach George Gemberling said. “They were really trying to double her anytime she came over the middle. They were prepared and they were ready for us.”
The lone goal came about a minute after CV’s Kellyanna Hendricks shot wide of goal. With the last 15 or seconds starting to wind down, Rams keeper Mary Kate Levush had the ball after collecting the ball and punted it down the field. Off the kick, Dorwart won the ball and played in Knoll, who let it go and sank the shot in the far back corner of the net as the last second wound off the clock.
Pennridge coach Audrey Anderson felt like the blame was on her, though she was just as shell-shocked as her players.
“It’s a coaching error, really,” Anderson, herself blinking back tears, said. “It comes down to game management, 12 seconds left and I’m not screaming for our keeper to hold onto the ball. The girls played hard, the hardest thing as a coach is to see the disappointment on your players’ faces after everything they’ve accomplished this season. For it to come down to seconds and to know there are 11 seniors who are leaving without reaching their goal, it’s heartbreaking.”
Pennridge opened each half with a spurt of pressure that had Cumberland Valley reeling at times but both times, the Eagles were able to settle in and start going at the Rams more and more. CV’s Anna Hull hit a crossbar in the first half while Brice McInroy rang the outside of the Pennridge post with a wicked shot in the last two minutes of the first half.
Mallory Johnson had a golden chance of her own in the second half, but shot wide of an open net with 28:19 left.
Dorwart, showing her skill to even get this off, battled to turn and ripped a chance wide with 17:42 left in the second half, a Rams defender all over her. Each of the four backs, plus the midfielders, had moments defending the forward, but junior center back Courtney Supp especially played excellent.
“We knew they had some very skilled finishers,” Anderson said. “Our goal was to keep ourselves tight, not get split and keep them from shooting. We strive on being as perfect as possible and for my backs to give up such a low amount of shots (eight) to such a great team, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. We talk about life lessons every day in soccer and we talk about seconds and how everything can change just like that and if I were to replay it, I would be doing something different. The back four, they did something outstanding and should be real proud of what they did.”
After the teams shook hands at the end of the game, Gemberling made his way back over to Anderson and told the Pennridge coach it was the toughest game his team had played all season. The CV coach was highly complementary of the Rams, specifically Stevenson and Peace plus the four backs.
Pennridge did not have senior forward Kennedy Peace on Saturday, so the Rams had to rely on several younger players to spell the starters. While they understandably had some nervous moments, there were some good moments as well for the next wave of Rams.
“It didn’t matter how many people said we couldn’t step up to their game, I think we played right with them,” Stevenson said. “We connected passes all around the field. It went both ways the entire game. It was an even game, it came down to one unlucky thing.”
Losing the 11 seniors will be a big blow for the program next year. Much like the last Pennridge team to make states, back in 2011, inspired this group, they have the chance to inspire the future.
“These young kids look at them and want to be them,” Anderson said. “They see the hard work and how much it takes to be a team like this. We talked about it before we made it to states, everybody sees the success we’re having and they don’t see everything else that goes along with it, the failures, the disappointment, the heart break, all the hard work.”
A tough-as-nails competitor on the field, Stevenson kept her head up as she left the field and knowing all of her teammates were taking the result hard, she planned to share a message with them on their ride home.
“As a captain, I need to make sure my team realizes that this was such a good game,” Stevenson said. “No matter what happened, we need to know that getting this far and playing this well tonight, that’s a good thing. Even though we lost, that’s going to be the hard part getting everyone through. You can’t tell someone to just get over it, but our team has to keep their heads up and know we played really good tonight.”
CUMBERLAND VALLEY 0 1 – 1
PENNRIDGE 0 0 – 0
Goals: CV – Devan Knoll (Rachael Dorwart) 79:59. Shots: CV – 8, P – 3. Corners: CV – 4, P – 1. Saves: CV – Sydney Bruckner 3, P – Mary Kate Levush 7
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