DOYLESTOWN >> The core of the St. Basil Academy girls soccer team has been together for three years and it really shows.
The Panthers’ attack just flows, the ball jumping from foot to foot to foot, passes spraying to every part of the field. When St. Basil is humming, like it was Saturday afternoon, the chances are going to come, and often come in droves.
A skillful display of passing and three years of continuity led St. Basil to a 6-0 win over New Hope-Solebury in the District 1/12 AA regional final at Central Bucks West as the Panthers repeated as regional champions.
“Passing out wide and back into the middle was really working today,” Basil senior Maddie McCrae said. “All year we’ve improved our passing and ability to play as a team.”
St. Basil has 12 seniors on its roster, many of them four-year starters, plus a large crop of juniors who have been key cogs in the machine since their freshman season. Last year, the Panthers seemed to find something and not only won the District 1/12 regional, but advanced to the second round of states.
While that team was new to the experience, this year’s group came back looking to not only get back to states, but make a deep run. This is the year to do it, with stalwart players like McCrae, Erin Gilsenan, Lauren Baldo, Brielle Piecyk and Paulina Storck, among plenty of others, playing their senior seasons.
It was clear early on Saturday that Basil was the stronger side and the evidence came from the team’s passing.
“We use our time, get our heads up and play into the open field,” Panthers junior Cara Hughes said. “We’re always looking to swing it out so we can bring it back in and get opportunities inside.”
McCrae scored once and assisted St. Basil’s first two goals, Hughes had two assists and senior Meghan DiDomenico set up two goals as the Panthers used their passing to create all six goals.
Sophia Mahoney opened the scoring with 33:40 left in the first half when McCrae all but gift-wrapped the ball on a perfect cross off the right side to the far post for an easy tap-in. McCrae, a senior winger, used another cross, this a low liner along the endline, to pick out senior Jules Harkins for another easy finish midway through the first half.
Hughes, who came off the bench Saturday, kept up the barrage. She first found junior Delany Gayton to make it 3-0, then showed a lot of hustle and smarts for St. Basil’s fourth goal.
“We do a lot of short-sided games and scrimmages in practice,” Hughes said. “Getting that game tempo going in practice really helps.”
The ball was heading for the endline and would have led to a corner, but Hughes chased it down, toed the ball to a halt on the yellow line, then drove a cross into the box. McCrae met the service and ripped a one-time volley into the back of the net with 9:35 left in the first half.
DiDomenico picked out Gilsenan for a well-hit curler off the right side early in the second half before finding Baldo to cap the scoring for the Panthers with roughly 28 minutes left.
“A lot of us have been playing together since freshman year, it’s our last year playing together and we don’t want this season to end,” McCrae said. “We go over it every practice, once we’re out wide we go back to the 18 because we know someone’s going to be there.”
The Panthers credit a lot of their success to head coach Bob Opalka, who keeps things light and tries to mix things up at practice. McCrae and Hughes said the team is very serious, but it’s actually difficult to tell by their sideline demeanor.
St. Basil has also gotten strong play from its defense, which is anchored by Storck, Pieczyk, senior Jules Gura and senior goalkeeper Brooke Shissler. Shissler wasn’t tested much on Saturday, but did come up with an impressive diving stop on New Hope’s lone shot on goal.
“She’s one of the best keepers in our league and she always keeps us grounded,” Hughes said. “She keeps our heads in the game and gets things started with her communication and all of us playing so well together really helps us.”
McCrae said the team has a better idea of what to expect in states and how much of a step up the level of play is, but the Panthers are also optimistic. They know much better than anyone else just what they can do when they play together and let their passing do the work.
“It’s one of the cool things about playing on the same team for three years,” Hughes said. “That chemistry and build-up has helped put us on the map and gives us a fighting chance in our league and good representation in the playoffs.”
ST. BASIL 6, NEW HOPE-SOLEBURY 0
ST. BASIL 4 2 – 6
NEW HOPE-SOLEBURY 0 0 – 0
Goals: SB – Sophia Mahoney (Maddie McCrae), Jules Harkins (McCrae), McCrae (Cara Hughes), Delaney Gayton (Hughes), Erin Gilsenan (Meghan DiDomenico), Lauren Baldo (DiDomencio).
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