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Pennsbury fends off Spring-Ford for District 1-4A championship

MALVERN >> The Pennsbury girls soccer team was making it look easy.

Lizzy Kirk’s volleyed blast from the top of the penalty area rattled the left post with 16 minutes to play and with the Falcons already leading by two goals, Pennsbury had the look of a team cruising to a district championship.

The cruise control came to a screeching halt over the final 12 minutes of regulation as Spring-Ford made a furious rally that got even more interesting when the Rams’ Kelly Franz scored with eight minutes remaining. But the comeback attempt ultimately fell short as Pennsbury stood tall and captured the District 1 Class 4A championship, 2-1, Saturday at Great Valley High School.

Pennsbury’s Jenna Peters (12) smiles after scoring her team’s second goal while Hope Drewes, who assisted on the goal, and a Falcon teammate, foreground, celebrate. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Senior Jenna Peters’ majestic header from a thumping 35-yard cross from Hope Drewes proved to be the match-winner less than five minutes into the second half for No. 3 seed Pennsbury. She built on Christine Cataldo-Smith’s opening goal in the 15th minute, headed in from a Peters’ corner.

“This is amazing,” Peters said. “It’s another step forward to being state champs and I can’t wait to get there. That’s our whole goal and this was another step toward getting there.”

As district champion, Pennsbury (19-1-2) will meet District 3 third-place finisher Central Dauphin — a winner over Manheim Township on Saturday — in the first round of states on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. The Falcons are perched back atop District 1 after last winning the title in 2014.

The Pennsbury girls soccer team celebrates after winning the District 1 Class 4A championship over Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Spring-Ford (17-5-1) enters the lower half of the bracket – its fourth PIAA trip in the past five years – where they will meet District 11 runner-up Emmaus in Tuesday’s first round.

“Everyone’s upset about losing, but we lost with dignity being that we fought back and didn’t give up,” Spring-Ford senior defender KK O’Donnell said. “In the end everyone was very excited because we had a few opportunities. It stinks that we couldn’t finish them.

“As they were celebrating and we came together, we talked about how we could use this as fuel to get through states and hopefully win it.”

Pennsbury’s Christine Cataldo-Smith (21) heads the ball on a corner kick for a goal to the far post in the first half against Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Pennsbury’s defensive pressure — led by Drewes, Riley Young, Taylor Muller, Ella Palmieri and midfielders Gabby Zalot and Kirk — minimized the time on the ball Spring-Ford’s possession-oriented play craves. The Rams, led by midfielders Laura Fazzini and Gabby Kane, were far from overrun – they had a firm shots advantage but carried less of a threat when attacking than their perfect-goal seeking counterparts.

“They attacked everything,” Spring-Ford coach Tim Leyland said.

That includes the game’s decisive moment.

“Their second goal for instance, the ball gets flighted in from the left flank with a really good ball and it’s destined to find our back line,” Leyland said. “But this kid (Peters) comes out of nowhere and attacks it and finishes it with an absolute banger of a header. They just attacked everything and they made us work so much harder.”

Peters came ‘out of nowhere’ by heeding coach Kaitlyn Battiste’s advice.

“I knew I needed to get wide because coach always tell me I need to get wide before going forward. Instead of going forward first, I just went wide and I saw the ball coming and ran on to it and headed it in,” Peters said. “Usually she does (look for me) because she’s really good on those diagonal balls and we work on that at practice. But it doesn’t usually end with a headed goal.”

Pennsbury appeared well on its way up 2-0 and fresh off a shot off the post, but Spring-Ford ratcheted up their desperation and it rendered results. The Rams’ Franz capitalized on an error at the back when a ball from deep in the right corner bounced over the defenders head and right to Franz on the doorstep.

“We take a lot of pride in competing,” Leyland said. “Looking back three weeks ago, if you would have told me we were going to be in a district final, I probably would have disagreed with you. We didn’t want to go out just being knocked down. We stood back up and gave it a fight over the last 12 minutes and gave it a chance.”

Pennsbury’s Gabby Zalot (2) goes in for a tackle against Spring-Ford’s Gabby Kane. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Pennsbury keeper Kerry Phillips (six saves) didn’t let any others by, including a nice tip save from a grazing header on a corner kick.

Spring-Ford looked like it could equalize in the final moments with a dangerous free kick from 22 yards. But the Rams’ O’Donnell played short to Ella Curry and was closed down well by Dani Cady to effectively end it.

“That was so long. I was just looking at the clock, waiting for it to get down to 0:00,” Peters said. “When they got that free kick it was really nerve-wracking but I knew that our team wasn’t going to let it in. We wanted this so much and nothing was going to stop us.”

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