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Spring-Ford holds off Emmaus in PIAA-4A opener

RED HILL >> Lily Nowakowski knows a perfect pass when she sees one.

Just a few minutes into Tuesday night’s PIAA Class 4A playoff game against Emmaus, the Spring-Ford senior forward received a textbook pass from Gabby Kane streaking up the right sideline.

From there, she could hardly believe what she saw in front.

“When I took the pass from Gabby,” she recalled, “I saw a red figure out in front of me. I realized that the net was wide open. It was an amazing pass from Gabby and I knew I needed to send something right on goal.”

Kane’s pass played perfectly and pulled the keeper well out of position, enabling Nowakowski to score an early equalizer in the 15th minute. That set the tone early, as KK O’Donnell followed up with a pair of second-half free-kick goals as Spring-Ford held on and downed Emmaus, 3-2, in the opening round of states.

With the win, District One runner-up Spring-Ford will face Conestoga Valley, a 1-0 winner over Council Rock South in penalty kicks, on Saturday at a time and place yet to be determined.

“That got us back on track,” said Spring-Ford head coach Tim Leyland of Nowakowski’s early goal. “We missed a really great opportunity to go up 1-0 early in the first minute and then they (Emmaus) came down and scored one on a corner to go up early. So we needed that.”

It’s a much different place than the Rams were a season ago, when they watched the state playoffs at home for the first time since the 2012 season. Leyland gives all the credit to his senior leadership, as Spring-Ford boasts an unheard of 19 seniors on its roster.

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” he said. “We’ve got 19 seniors and every one of them brings something to the team. A lot of coaches thought I was crazy for keeping that many seniors and a 27-player roster, but over the course of the season, we’ve definitely made it work. We get a lot of kids in the game and everyone contributes something on any given night.”

Spring-Ford’s KK O’Donnell goes airborne as she wins a header along the sideline against Boyertown. (Austin Hertzog – DFM file)

On this particular night, that key contributor was O’Donnell.

The senior defender scored on a free kick 18 minutes into the second half, then added what stood as the game-winner with 11 minutes left in regulation.

“The first one was definitely much more pretty,” said O’Donnell with a laugh, pointing out that her first goal clanked off the right post and into the net. “On that first goal, I saw no one was on the far post, so that’s where I put it. I like those shots from the right side because I’m a lefty. It’s definitely an advantage.”

The Ram offense kept Emmaus goalkeeper Kyra Malone busy as they racked up 13 shots on goal. Malone finished with 10 saves — eight during the second half.

Spring-Ford controlled the possession through most of the night, but District 11 runner-up Emmaus was feeding off the transition game. Sophomore midfielder Lily Schmitt finished out a scrum in front of the goal to cap a corner try in the sixth minute for the game’s opening goal.

Just when it looked as though Spring-Ford was in complete control, Emmaus answered right back. Rachael Miller headed in a rebound with 9:36 left in regulation to make it a one-score game.

Making the program’s first state playoff appearance since the 2009 season, Emmaus head coach Sarah Oswald noted that she was impressed with her team’s ability to play on such a big stage.

“I’m really impressed with the way our girls handled playing in the state tournament,” she said. “This was something that was very foreign to our team. I was nervous about them showing up and playing under the pressure, but we executed the way we wanted to.”

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