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Regan’s stops enable Conestoga to beat, draw even with Penncrest

TREDYFFRIN >> Maeve Regan wasn’t prompted, but her assessment of Tuesday night’s game was inextricable from the memory of the previous time she had stepped on the field.

Regan was in net for five goals last Thursday when Conestoga was stunned by Garnet Valley, a degree of porosity rarely incurred in the Pioneers’ recent history. With a chance to resume a climb to the top rung in the Central League ladder against Penncrest Tuesday, Regan knew precisely how much baggage she had to tote onto the field.

Conestoga’s Caitlin Donovan, left, lines up the shot that will end up as the only goal Tuesday night as Penncrest’s Sarah Hughes defends. Donovan’s aim was true in a 1-0 win for the Pioneers. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“Going off of our last game when we had a bad loss against Garnet Valley, I personally didn’t think I had the greatest game,” she said. “I was fired up. I just knew this was a good team.”

Regan rose to the occasion with five saves, a pair of them spectacular, to help Caitlin Donovan’s second-half goal stand up in a 1-0 win.

The victory moves Conestoga (11-2-1, 8-1 Central) into a tie atop the league with Penncrest (12-1, 8-1). Should both teams win their final two games, they would split the title.

Regan’s best intervention came just three minutes before Donovan tallied. Conestoga had mostly controlled the action to that point, forcing Bryn McLaughlin into eight saves while Regan had been called into action just once.

But a Katie Sparling cross from the right wing in the 57th minute found central midfielder Kara Mullaney lurking near the penalty spot to side-foot an effort back across the grain. Regan took two quick, shuffle steps to her left then threw her body at the ball, just tipping it wide of the post.

“Honestly, I just go from my experience and what I know how to do,” Regan said. “I just trust my instinct. I’m not thinking; I just go for it.”

Regan dove to get her fingertips to a shot by Corryn Gamber from the right channel in the 72nd minute, then denied Kenna Kaut on a corner from point-blank range in the 73rd as the Lions poured on pressure. Logan Morris sprayed an unmarked header just wide on the corner resulting from Regan’s denial of Mullaney in the 58th. And the keeper was a spectator in the 79th minute when a Morgan King roller from the left channel skittered inches wide of her far post.

PHOTO GALLERY: Conestoga vs. Penncrest

“You work so much up to it, you have so much go into that one moment, and to have that slip by, it’s so close and it really hurts,” Penncrest midfielder Kat Mullaney said of the missed chances.

Conestoga seemed fated to similar frustration until Donovan made her mark. McLaughlin was excellent with 11 saves, but there was nothing she could do on the hour mark. Donovan had a pass deflect off a defender back into her path as she cut in from the left wing 30 yards from goal. With space from her marker, Donovan lofted a perfect shot to the far post that fluttered over McLaughlin and tickled the back of the net.

“I saw the goalie popping out a little bit so I just tried to lay it over her head,” Donovan said. “… I guess I was lucky.”

The first half was anything but lucky on the injury front. Within two minutes, both Penncrest defender Carly Dunford and Conestoga winger Emily Wertz went down with apparent knee injuries. Wertz’s appeared the more serious, requiring a cart ride off the field. Dunford, an All-Delco as a sophomore with a history of knee issues, walked off under her own power but didn’t return.

Without Dunford, sophomore Julia Mullaney slotted back into central defense to pair with Sarah Hughes and performed well. She followed up a McLaughlin save early in the second half with a crucial denial of Eliza Bailey in the box with the goalie down on the turf.

“I think we all really panicked at first because (Dunford) is a strong player and really vital to the team,” Julia Mullaney said. “But it gave us more of a motivation to win because we wanted to win for her because we knew how bad she wanted to be on the field.”

McLaughlin, who has allowed only three goals in 13 games this season, made a split-second reaction save with her foot on defender Hannah Morgan’s pinballed shot in the box in the 58th, whether she knew much about it or not.

Conestoga goalie Maeve Regan, center, celebrates with Courtney Callista, left, and Caitlin Donovan after Donovan’s second-half goal put Conestoga on the path to a 1-0 win over Penncrest Tuesday. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

But in a case of quality over quantity, Regan got the best of the Lions. Driven by a mix of disappointment from last week’s result and unfinished business from when she, as a freshman last year, watched from the bench at a 2-2 draw with Penncrest, Regan set matters straight Tuesday.

“Honestly, it just brought my confidence down and I knew it wasn’t good for us as a team,” Regan said of the Garnet loss. “But when I thought about it, it was good for us as a team. It fired us up so much more for this game, and who knows what would’ve happened if we didn’t lose that Garnet Valley game? …

“I just know, seeing the saves that I made tonight, I just know what I can do. I know my strengths and that I can push myself to do even more.”

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