ROYERSFORD >> Kayla Mesaros knew that her team was not playing its best soccer during No. 3-seeded Pope John Paul II’s District 1 Class AAA matchup with No. 11 Gwynedd Mercy Academy on Thursday afternoon.
After surrendering a first-half lead just a minute after the break, the Panthers found themselves in a battle with the Monarchs.
With seven minutes remaining, the Panthers were able to break the tie when Mesaros headed a long free kick attempt from Julia Owens past Monarchs’ goalie Brynne Hanson to lift Pope John Paul II to a 3-2 win.
“Good teams always find a way to win,” said Mesaros, who finished the contest with two goals. “We just came out a little rough. We didn’t pass the ball as well but I’m happy we were able to equal it and find a way to win it in the end.”
With the win, the Golden Panthers advanced to their first ever district semifinal, where they will meet Penncrest, the team who knocked them out of the District playoffs last season.
The Monarchs were the first to get on the board when Cailin Panacek shot a free kick out of the reach of Golden Panthers’ goalie Stacy Kormos just over five minutes into the game. PJP would get on the board later in the half when Emily Hughes found Mesaros on a through ball, springing the senior for her first goal of the game. The Golden Panthers then broke the tie when Aubrey Moroz netted a rebound opportunity off another Mesaros shot giving PJP a 2-1 lead heading into halftime.
Wind was a factor throughout the day as both teams struggled to move the ball consistently.
Gwynedd was able to tie the game up once again just one minute into the second half, when Panacek weaved her way through the Panthers’ defense and made a perfect cross right to Emily Meehan who headed it in for the 2-2 tie.
The Panthers tried to answer and got their best opportunity five minutes later when Mesaros found a wide-open Casey Genovese who shot it wide right.
With the exception of a few Mesaros runs, the Monarch defense, led by seniors Bridget Casey and Holly Grosse, as well as Nicole Esposito and Sarah White, were able to bottle up the Panthers’ offense.
“We just wanted to keep the pressure on,” said Gwynedds’ head coach Derik Stover. “Bridget (Casey) did an outstanding job, everyone came to play and our defense did a phenomenal job.”
The Golden Panthers created a few corner opportunities later in the second half but were unable to convert.
Pope John Paul was able to break the tie with just over seven minutes remaining when Owens took a free kick from just over 45 yards out. The senior was able to get the ball high enough and through the wind allowing Mesaros to get into position to head it in giving the Panthers the lead and eventually the win at 3-2.
“I just knew I had to put my head on the ball and if it went forward it would be on the net,” said Mesaros.
The Monarchs had some opportunities to tie the game up but Kormos was able to come out strong, making two of her four saves in the final four minutes.
Hanson finished the contest with three saves for the Monarchs.
Stover was thrilled with the way his team battled throughout the game despite the conditions on the afternoon.
“I feel that even though we didn’t come out on top that we were the better team,” he said.