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Gamber helper helps patient Penncrest slip into semis

MIDDLETOWN >> For 60 minutes Thursday night, the contrast in play between Penncrest and Sun Valley was as stark as that of a 6-foot forward shadowed by a 5-1 defender. The only things uniting the teams — and consequently Corryn Gamber and Deanna Baker — were the zeroes somehow enduring on the scoreboard.

Over that hour, Baker and the No. 10 seed Vanguards valiantly held their lines against incessant pressure from Penncrest. With the score not changing, it fell to Gamber, the Penncrest target forward, to break in the inertia.

Penncrest senior Carly Baillis, right, reacts to her second half goal assisted by teammate Corryn Gambler Thursday in Penncrest’s 3-0 win over Sun Valley in the District 1 Class 3A girls soccer tournament. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Gamber set up Carly Baillis’ opener in the 62nd minute, starting a deluge of three goals in nine minutes as Penncrest claimed a 3-0 win in the quarterfinals of the District 1 Class 3A tournament. Kenna Kaut and Kara Mullaney also netted for Penncrest (17-1), which seeks to return to states Monday on home turf against third-seeded Pope John Paul II.

To get to that point, the Lions had to breach the sturdy defenses of Sun Valley, the 10 seed with an upset in hand. And converting the one-way traffic into a goal required a little improvisation.

For most of the night, the lanky Gamber deployed the usual tricks in the forward’s arsenal, picking out diagonal runs between the center backs of a high-lined Sun Valley defense or checking back in possession to distribute out wide.

When Morgan King made a bombing sortie down the left wing in the 62nd, though, Gamber zagged against a defense used to her zigging. She took a touch to get around a defender, gained the byline and squared a left-footed ball to Baillis that the senior winger dutifully side-footed home.

“They definitely underestimate her,” Baillis said of Gamber. “She has so many foot skills, it’s insane. And she has so much confidence in herself, so I think once they give her that space, she’ll go right for it and make things happen.”

All that was left for Baillis after Gamber finally unlocked the defense was to quell her nerves and pick out a composed finish.

“It’s a rush of emotions,” Baillis said. “You know you need it because I’m a senior, this is my last season. We work so hard, we pushed so hard, it’s just running in my mind to just do what you practiced, remember everything you’ve worked for.”

Penncrest was forced to work for it by a well-organized and resilient Sun Valley (9-8-3), which ousted No. 7 Nazareth Academy in penalty kicks Tuesday. Marshalled by Baker and her significantly taller central defense partner Devon Linn, the Vanguards kept their shape despite the constant attacks. And more often than not, Baker, even with her vertical limitations, uncannily found the right place at the right time to clear the lines.

“I’m naturally good in the air,” said Baker, who scored against Nazareth. “… I think it’s just because I constantly want the ball, and even though I’m on defense, I always want to get up the field. So my drive to get the ball kind of helps me.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Sun Valley at Penncrest

Eventually, Penncrest wore Sun Valley down. Amy Parker had to make 11 saves in goal, and Baker added a clearance off the line in the first half. Two strikes of the crossbar — by Kaut on a go from distance and Mullaney on the follow-up to a corner — in the first half offered Sun Valley a reprieve. But it proved temporary.

Seven minutes after Baillis’ opener, Penncrest capitalized on corner kick No. 11. Katie Sparling’s delivery was nodded forward by Gamber before Kaut nudged the ball over the line from less than a yard out over a sprawling Parker.
Mullaney doubled the edge within 90 seconds, the stellar freshman unleashing a wicked side volley on Kaut’s long restart that found the corner of the net in the 71st.

Sun Valley pushed harder after conceding, but forward Sami Bowen was isolated most of the night, thanks to the defensive pairing of Sarah Hughes and converted midfielder Shayna Polsky and the all-Mullaney midfield triangle of Kara, Julia and Kat.

Penncrest freshman Kara Mullaney, left, goes into a tackle against Sun Valley’s Leah Roth Thursday evening at home, Mullaney scored in the second half of a 3-0 victory. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Bowen fired one over the bar late, while Baker tested Bryn McLaughlin with the Vanguards’ only shot on goal on a long-range free kick with three minutes left.

The fortitude Sun Valley showed inspired Baker and the other five starting seniors to leave the field with smiles on.

“I think that we definitely made history this year,” she said. “It’s definitely different being in this playoff role. It was a big thing for us. Our goal was to win one playoff game, and we won playoff game. So next year hopefully they get to come back and win another.”

Penncrest set its bar higher last year, with a District 1 silver medal and a first-round elimination from the PIAA tournament. Improving those results are where their sights are set, even when faced with adversity like the first hour of Thursday’s affair.

“It’s kind of hard. I just know you have to push through it,” Gamber said. “We want to go to states, we want to go to Hershey and win at Hershey hopefully.”

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