BUCKTOWN >> Most teams have players write down their season goals in the preseason. They usually go something like ‘‘have a better record than last year,’ or ‘win the league championship.’
But for most of the Pope John Paul II girls soccer team, one of their goals was highly specific: “Beat Spring-Ford.”
After Tuesday night, the Golden Panthers can revisit their lists because it’s time to look at the next goal.
Senior midfielder Avery Cotter switched fields to wide-open senior winger Liz Kropp, who hit a beautifully struck shot from 30 yards to the near post in the 53rd minute, to supply the only goal of the Pioneer Athletic Conference semifinals as Pope John Paul II unseated defending champion Spring-Ford, 1-0, Tuesday night at Owen J. Roberts.
Final: Pope John Paul II 1, Spring-Ford 0, PAC girls soccer semifinals. PJP unseats the champs pic.twitter.com/bJExLwe1IR
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) October 18, 2017
“Coach (Stew Sherk) always asked us to write down our goals for the season and I swear everyone wrote ‘beat Spring-Ford,’” said Cotter, who has been a key addition since rejoining the team for her senior year. “They’ve always thought they were better than us, but this year we knew we were head-and-head with them and that we could do it.”
“They’re obviously known as a dominant team and they’ve always beaten us,” Kropp said. “We’d never beaten them so this is really special for us.”
Indeed, it was the current Golden Panthers players’ first win over Spring-Ford, which entered winners of three of the past four PAC championships, after playing to a 0-0 draw in the regular season.
Now, Frontier Division champion PJP (14-1-1) heads to the PAC championship game, Thursday night against host and Liberty champ Owen J. Roberts, a 3-2 winner over Boyertown in the other semifinal.
For the Golden Panthers’ seniors, it’s a return to a title game they experienced as rookies.
“Our freshman year, (the semifinal) was like tonight, a close game where we beat Boyertown and we went crazy,” Cotter said. “Now we want to win even more because we’ve been to the final and lost before.”
Spring-Ford (13-4-1) entered on a two-game losing streak and couldn’t find the scoring touch that’s gone missing of late. The Rams, ranked No. 8 in the current District 1-4A power rankings, now turn their attention to districts where they have no choice but to get back on track, according to coach Tim Leyland.
“Our next game is an elimination game, no matter how you look at it,” Leyland said. “We either fix it or our season is over. We corrected things in spurts, we just couldn’t get the final push in the final third.”
Despite a third straight defeat, Leyland gave all the credit to PJP for taking the game.
“They have three Division I kids (Kayla Mesaros, Cotter, Julia Owens) and a great supporting cast around them. They’re a quality team,” Leyland said. “It’s not like we took a loss to a team that’s sub-par, they’re outstanding.”
The chances were few for both sides through the first half and into the second, PJP probably coming closest to a score on a corner kick but the Rams’ Gabby Kane headed the ball off the goal line five minutes in.
In a game with such thin margins, it was going to take a moment of magic and it came through the left-footed Kropp.
“I saw Kayla and I was about to play it to her, but I saw (Liz) and a lot of space so I passed it,” Cotter said.
“I’m always open over there,” Kropp said. “I’m usually freaking out, but I don’t want to scream because I don’t want them to defend me, but I’m always like, ‘Over here!’”
Rightly so as her goal turned the tempo of the game, but PJP’s defense of Owens, Monica Rapchinski, Lainey Owens and Madison McNamara surrendered little to Spring-Ford.
The Rams did put the ball in the back of the net with 17 minutes to play, but goalkeeper Stacy Kormos (seven saves) was ruled to have been interfered with.
In the final seconds, the Rams nearly leveled, but the low drive went into the near-post side-netting – on the outside.
The final buzzer set off a championship-level celebration from the Golden Panthers. But to them it wasn’t just a semifinal, it was one of their biggest goals being completed.
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