Downingtown >> Prior to the start of Conestoga’s PIAA 4A state tournament opener against Ephrata Tuesday, Pioneer head coach Dave Zimmerman reminded his team that patience would be key in order to emerge victorious.
With Ephrata, the third-place finisher from District 3, packing it in playing nine of their 10 field players in the defensive third, Conestoga did just that, taking advantage anytime they were able to create space for scoring opportunities.
By staying patient, the District 1 champions were able to carve out a 2-1 victory on a rainy Tuesday evening at DiSarafino Stadium on the campus of Downingtown West High School.
“Elizabethtown proved last year you could win playing defense and countering,” said Zimmerman. “This is the second team we’ve played in the playoffs that has taken this strategy. It’s good strategy. It keeps the game close and for us it was trying to work the wings and get as many balls in the box. We also wanted to win the 50-50 balls and keep the ball in the end and we pretty much did that. I give them a lot of credit. It was very frustrating.”
With the score tied 1-1 late in the second half, Rodrigo Martinez displayed the patience Zimmerman discussed by holding the ball an extra second in order to create space before firing a laser into the upper 90 of the net beating Ephrata keeper Eric Cole Hummel for what turned out to be the eventual game winner with 8:12 remaining.
“They were packing it in defensively so we knew the goal had to come from a good shot,” said Martinez following the match. “I got the ball, held it for an extra second to create space and took the shot towards the Upper 90. I was fortunate it went in.”
“Roddy [Martinez] can strike a ball,” said Zimmerman. “He’s been getting better as the season went on, scoring more goals for us. It was a beautiful shot and we were fortunate it went in.”
Conestoga (22-0-1) advances to the quarterfinals and will face District 11 champion Parkland Saturday at a time and place to be determined. Parkland defeated Kennett, the third-place finisher from District 1, 3-1, Tuesday evening at J. Birney Crum Stadium in Allentown.
Patience is nothing new to Martinez, who has overcome two different knee injuries to get to where he is today. During his freshman year, Martinez suffered a dislocated knee in a match at Downingtown West before suffering a torn ACL his sophomore year in a match at Radnor.
While it was a tough two years, Martinez stayed patient and has been able to enjoy the success his team has achieved the past two years, including two Central League titles, two state tournament appearances (2016 state championship) and a district title this year.
“I love playing the game and I will do anything I have to in order to get back on the field,” said Martinez. “I love playing with these guys and we always believe in each other. We knew if we stayed patient we could pull through. It was a rough two years (freshman and sophomore) but I am just happy to be here with my teammates. I feel fortunate I had a chance to get the shot and score the game winner.”
“It was very rewarding to see Roddy score the eventual game winner,” said Zimmerman. “Most people may have quit following two major knee injuries but he stayed with it. You love to see your seniors step up in big moments and I think that is as big of a shot you will see.”
Chris Donovan got Conestoga on the board with 8:07 remaining in the first half when he spun by a defender and beat Hummel with a shot from 12 yards out. Ephrata tied the score 10 minutes into the second half when Andrey Patrushev scored on a penalty kick after being pulled down in the box.
Conestoga 2, Ephrata 1
Ephrata 0 1 – 1
Conestoga 1 1 – 2
Ephrata goals: Patrushev.
Conestoga goals: Donovan, Martinez.
Goalie saves: Hummel (EP) 8, Smith (CO) 3.
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