BUCKTOWN >> In order to achieve their lofty goals this postseason, Owen J. Roberts’ girls soccer team will likely need to win games in a variety of ways.
In Tuesday’s PAC semifinals, they proved they’re up to the task.
After a tense, defensive-oriented first half, the Wildcats broke the game open early in the second, then held off a furious Boyertown rally to survive, 3-2, advancing to Thursday’s PAC title game against Pope John Paul II, who upended Spring-Ford 1-0 in the other semifinal.
Senior forward Mahogany Willis produced two of the OJR goals, despite being the obvious focal point of the Boyertown defensive gameplan.
“In all three games this year, Willis has been the difference against us,” admitted Boyertown coach Bill Goddard. “In the first half, we did a great job… we bottled her up. But she’s the kind of player who doesn’t need much room or much time to make things happen.”
Goddard’s observation was evident on Willis’ first goal, which came exactly five minutes into the second half. She took a loose ball just over midfield, and needed only two quick dribbles to reach the top of the box, where she drilled a low shot just past the diving reach of Boyertown keeper Mattie Gallagher.
“Our new forward alignment drew some of the defense away from me,” observed Willis. “We’re using two forwards up front now — before it was just me. After the first half, we decided to play a little wider.”
Four minutes after Willis’ opening tally, OJR’s Caroline Thompson launched a low corner kick that took a strange bounce off Gallagher and into the net for a 2-0 Wildcats lead. Many who’ve seen the stalwart 2017 OJR defense this year figured that would do it, but Boyertown had other plans. Corinne Renninger got loose on a partial breakaway and beat OJR’s Samantha Hughes to cut the lead in half only 47 seconds later.
But it wasn’t even another two minutes before Willis took a feed from Sarah Kopec and placed it in almost an identical spot to the first goal, widening the lead to two goals yet again. The Wildcats had struck thrice in the first 12 minutes of the half, surviving a Boyertown tally in between.
“All year long, we’ve been figuring out how to win a game,” said OJR coach Joe Margusity. “Results-wise, (the first half) was probably our poorest of the year, and the credit for that goes to Boyertown. I don’t even know if we played poorly as much as they were just effective. At halftime, we resolved to come out and play the way we could.”
Willis almost finished her hat trick with about 15 minutes to play, smacking a rebound off the bottom off the crossbar. Once again, it appeared OJR had put the game on ice, until Boyertown’s Kaleigh Gallagher struck on one of her patented runs down the right wing. Throughout the evening, Gallagher created opportunities for the Bears that were thwarted by Hughes, Kylie Cahill and the rest of the Wildcats defense.
With just under ten minutes to play, however, she finally tallied into the lower corner, cutting the lead to 3-2.
Boyertown turned up the pressure from there on, but with about three minutes to play, OJR goalkeeper Hughes won a scramble to a loose ball, turning away Boyertown’s last, best chance.
“We lost a little composure towards the end,” lamented Margusity. “Boyertown had a good gameplan, they executed well — we have to do a better job. When you give up two goals in playoff soccer, you don’t expect to win too much. At the same time, I thought our freshman goalie played very well.”
Before the chaos of the second half, the opening stanza was a battle of contrasting strategies. The Wildcats tried in vain to free up Willis but were turned away by the aggressive Boyertown defense, who attempted to double on the ball at every opportunity.
Each team saw their best chance of the opening half in the closing minutes. OJR keeper Hughes turned away a left-footed blast by Hanah Mutter. Moments later, OJR finally got Willis free, only to see Mattie Gallagher tip her shot wide in the final minute.
While the district seedings won’t be determined until the weekend, it’s likely the end of the season for Boyertown — a fact not lost on OJR’s Margusity, who called it ‘unfortunate’ that a team as strong as Boyertown wouldn’t likely qualify for districts.
“We have a unique group of kids,” said Goddard. “It’s been kind of a cruel season — a lot of games like tonight that just didn’t turn out our way.”
Goddard added that this year’s seniors were the first not to select captains — choosing instead to lead as a unit.
For OJR, it’s onto Thursday night where they’ll play PJP — not Spring-Ford, as many had anticipated. Don’t count Margusity among that group, however.
“PJP has had Spring-Ford’s number this year,” he said. “They have as deadly a forward as anyone in (Kayla) Mesaros — she causes all sorts of problems for a defense. When we played them before, it was a ‘rock ‘em, sock ‘em’ back-and-forth affair.”
NOTES >> The offensively quiet first half was played quite evenly, with both teams putting two shots on net. Gallagher saved six shots on the night, while Hughes turned away four for the Wildcats. Both team enjoyed considerable attack zone time, combining for 15 corners (OJR 9, Boyertown 6). The Wildcats, ranked 2nd in District 1, moved to 17-1 on the season.
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