DOWNINGTOWN—The Downingtown West field hockey team has come close on a number of occasions, but never quite made it into a District 1 championship game. Just last year, the Whippets made it to the semi-finals, and were 9:42 away from a finals berth, but fell in overtime to eventual champion Conestoga.
Standing between West and a title berth in this year’s semi-finals was Central Bucks East, the No. 5 seed. Behind a stingy defense and an offense that dominated possession most of the afternoon, the Whippets (20-0) turned back CB East (17-4) by a 3-1 margin.
The Whippets will play No. 3 Conestoga, a 6-0 winner over Owen J Roberts in the other semi-final, Saturday at Metchacton, with game time slated for 3:30 PM, for the District 1, Class AAA championship.
“I told the girls to look at the banners in the gym,” said West coach Liz Bradley. “There are no district championship banners for West in field hockey. We’ve come close a few times in my twelve years here, but this is the first time we finally got there. It feels great to still be undefeated and playing for a district title. Now we’ve got to bring it home.”
West controlled the pace of the game early, with multiple trips into the circle, and keeping the Patriots out of theirs. Over the course of the first half, West forced five penalty corners, and held CB East without a single shot on goal or even a corner opportunity. But they struggled putting it in the cage.
The scoreless drought finally ended just before the midpoint of the first half when Claudia Jaszczak found the back netting of the cage with a beautiful lifted shot over Patriots’ goalie Emily Bullard. The 1-0 advantage would hold up through the break.
“None of us was comfortable with a one goal lead,” said West’s Romea Riccardo. “We played them earlier in the year and we knew they were a good team. We knew how good a player Riley (Donnelly) is, and that they were capable of scoring some goals.”
It didn’t take Donnelly very long to prove Riccardo’s point. A mere 4-seconds into the second half, Donnelly, a University of Maryland recruit, scored the equalizer on the Patriots’ first shot on goal of the day.
Suddenly the Patriots were in the game, exerting pressure in the circle, and limiting West’s chances, until the Whippets forced a corner with 15:57 left in regulation. During the completion of the corner try, CB East’s goalie was called for a foul and West was awarded a penalty stroke.
Riccardo took the stroke for the Whippets, and ripped a shot over the right shoulder of Bullard to put West up 2-1.
“I’ve been practicing strokes a lot lately,” said Riccardo. “We were in this same spot last year and couldn’t finish it out, so I knew I needed to step up and get the goal for my team. ”
JJ Smyth added an insurance goal about four minutes later, but if that meant the game was over, someone forgot to tell CB East, who simply kept hammering away.
Awarded a corner with just under five minutes to play, the Patriots worked it in to Donnelly, who fired a bullet at close range. But West goalie Caitlyn Coker made a brilliant save to keep the West lead at 3-1. Donnelly’s earlier goal is the only goal allowed by West in three post-season games.
“All week long we’ve talked about how important it was for me to just get my hands on one,” said Coker. “Just block that next goal, just take each situation as it comes. Our defense did a great job of marking and communicating, and we’ve just played so well as a unit.”
The West-Conestoga match-up figures to be a good one, as the last three times the two teams played, the games went to overtime.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for us to make our mark,” said Riccardo. “We’re all really looking forward to it.”
CB East 0 1 –1
D West 1 2 –3
Goals: CB East—Donnelly D West—Jaszczak, Riccardo, Smyth
Goalie Saves: Bullard (CBE) 6, Coker (DW) 1