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DeCarlo paces young Strath Haven to an important victory

CONCORD >> With a starting lineup comprising four freshmen and two sophomores and a team tasked with replacing the two-time Daily Times Girls Soccer Player of the Year, it shocked few people that Strath Haven at times this season has struggled to find the back of the net.

In the effort to play to the Panthers’ strengths, crossing out the possibility of widespread veteran savvy and proven goal production, what was there to rely on? Well, there’s the team’s usually well-drilled structure. And there’s that right foot of Liz DeCarlo.

Strath Haven’s Liz DeCarlo, right, tries to avoid Garnet Valley’s Nicole Barnes in the first half Thursday. DeCarlo had a hand in two goals as Strath Haven scored a 3-1 win. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

DeCarlo’s set-piece deliveries set up a pair of first-half goals off corner kicks — finished by Naomi Dickey and Paige Gillespie — that sent the Panthers on their way to a 3-1 Central League win over Garnet Valley Thursday night.

Grace Forbes added a second-half tally for Haven, and while Kayla Morey got Garnet Valley on the board with less than three minutes to play, it wasn’t enough.

When offense is in short supply (in part because of the graduation of Lizzie King last year), Route One for Haven is via corner kicks, of which they drew six. That’s DeCarlo’s time to shine.

“We’ve been practicing corners a lot because set pieces have always been one of our strengths,” the senior left back DeCarlo said. “In the past couple of games, we’ve just really done well with connecting on them. And it was kind of like (Gillespie) knew she had to make the run — that’s the run we always make, it’s always a different person. But we knew that if we keep making those runs with the ball placement, it will come. They know where to go.”

The first goal was a picture-perfect connection with Dickey, one of a bevy of sophomores in the rotation, rushing into the box to volley a near-post corner 13 minutes into the game.

Gillespie’s goal was scrappier, befitting her lack of goalscoring reputation (it’s just “the second of her life,” she said). The ball caromed off a Panther in the box, then off Garnet goalie Kayleigh Saboja and the crossbar. But Gillespie was waiting on the doorstep to head home into the yawning cage, equal parts assertive and opportunistic.

“Liz had a great cross in and I guess I was in the right place,” Gillespie said. “… We’ve been practicing. Liz’s corners are great and they often go to that same spot, and I was hoping it would go there. And she kicked a perfect ball.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Strath Haven vs. Garnet Valley

Those bursts of offense offered cushion for a freshmen skeleton to the team that shows immense promise. The central midfield duo of Ellie Malek and Maggie Forbes, both ninth-graders, controlled the pace in the middle of the pitch, with poise on the ball and passing aptitude that belies their ages. Devon Maillet took shifts running the wing. And Danielle McNeely was rock solid at right back.

Malek helped set up the third goal, her driving run at the backline sucking in two defenders before playing Margo Hotham into space down the right channel. Hotham’s shot was saved by a diving Saboja — another impressive freshman with seven saves on the night — but Grace Forbes applied the pressure with her back-post run, heading home the rebound.

McNeely has found a home on the backline, where change has become the norm. DeCarlo is the established senior at left back, but the rest of the unit is new, thanks largely to a pair of injuries early in the season.

Strath Haven forward Naomi Dickey, right, carries the ball past Garnet Valley defender Kayla Morey Thursday. Dickey scored the first goal in Strath Haven’s 3-1 victory. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

They read, from right to left: The freshman McNeely, converted sophomore goalkeeper Claire Wolgast, converted senior winger Elisa Kruse (who played sparingly last year) and DeCarlo. Yet they hardly put a foot wrong until the game was sealed.

“It was tricky at first, getting chemistry with them. It’s a whole new backline,” DeCarlo said. “But we’re all very comfortable with each other, so we’re always talking on who has who, and when marks shift over. Just from practicing and playing in games, we’ve learned what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are.”

Garnet Valley found chances harder to come by. Their first attempt on target didn’t arrive until the second half, a Regan Nealon shot easily handled by Carly Perlman. With influential midfielder Alyssa Saito hobbled by leg injury, the field seemed largely tilted in Haven’s favor, particularly in the first half.

“It was really hard,” Morey said. “We weren’t on our game tonight. and like, we weren’t a team tonight. It was really hard, and I think we came back really well in the second half. It just wasn’t the result that we wanted.”

Morey finally got a shot three minutes from time, the midfielder heading home a driven cross by defender Kamryn McNeal. But it wasn’t enough to overturn the Panthers’ youthful energy.

“They’re doing a fabulous job,” Gillespie said of the freshmen corps. “They’re really taking control, and we’re working together a lot in the midfield. I think it’s really organized and it was definitely different coming in with a younger team, but everybody’s skills are great and I think everybody’s pretty equal on this team.”

Also in the Central League:

Penncrest 3, Marple Newtown 0 >> Corryn Gamber paired a goal with an assist, and Miranda Cropper made six saves in goal as Penncrest (13-1, 9-1) recorded its 11th shutout of the season.

Julia Mullaney and Carly Baillis also scored for Penncrest, and Kat Mullaney and Shayna Polsky added helpers.

Harriton 2, Springfield 1 >> Julie Schickling scored in the second half to force overtime for the Cougars, but a brace from Rams’ senior Morgan Rees completed in the second extra session made the difference. Shannon Cutcliff made five saves in goal for Springfield.

In Bicentennial League:

Christian Academy 2, Baptist Regional 0 >> Lindsay Haseltine tallied twice in the second half for the Crusaders, the first off a Grace Gormley corner kick. Emma Mansfield posted the shutout for TCA (8-7, 5-5) with four saves, aided by outstanding defense from Jenna Evans and Jessica Searfass.

In the Del Val League:

Interboro 7, Penn Wood 0 >> The Bucs (8-7) shared the wealth: Nicole Floyd, Kerri Barnett, Jacklyn Floyd, Faith Sabre, Cassidy Chadwick, Morgan Reed and Kayla Droxler all found the back of the net.

In the Catholic League:

Archbishop Ryan 1, Cardinal O’Hara 0 >> Kerry Patterson stopped 11 shots, but Kaitlyn Findlay’s second-half tally separated the sides.

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