SOUDERTON >> The Neshaminy and Owen J. Roberts girls soccer teams faced off 10 days earlier.
The stakes weren’t quite the same in that meeting – third place in District 1 versus Tuesday night’s matchup with a spot in the PIAA Class 4A championship game on the line – but don’t tell the Buckskins that. They played both with the same will to win – and did.
Neshaminy made a pair of first-half goals, including junior Brooke Mullin’s pivotal score with 23.1 seconds until halftime, hold up to defeat Owen J. Roberts 2-1 in the PIAA 4A semifinals and advance to Friday’s title game in Hershey.
Final: Neshaminy 2, Owen J Roberts 1, PIAA 4A girls soccer semifinal. 2013 champ Neshaminy returns to state final pic.twitter.com/hjPpfdpBpF
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) November 14, 2017
“Making it to Hershey, it’s been our goal the three years I’ve been at Neshaminy. It’s something we’ve worked toward and I’m so proud of my team,” said Neshaminy senior defender Genna Obringer.
Obringer put Neshaminy (17-6-1), which defeated OJR 3-2 in a PIAA seeding game on Nov. 4, on the board in the 18th minute with a thunderous close-range header at the far post from a Jackie Ziegler corner kick before OJR freshman Sarah Kopec leveled the match with a determination goal where she stole the ball off a shielding defender trying to let the ball roll out for a 6-yard kick, found herself in close and with an easy near-post shot for a goal seven minutes later.
The game looked likely to go to halftime on level terms until a punt from OJR keeper Samantha Hughes bounced a number of times in the midfield and was played quickly back toward Mullin by Gina Sexton as the OJR defense and midfield were still pushing up. She ran through, pulled it on to her left to make the recovering defense miss and hit it past Hughes (10 saves) for the eventual game-winner in the 40th minute.
Neshaminy, which featured the back line of Obringer, Nicole Palmer, Hannah Stonkus and Alex Ziegler, plus goalkeeper Riley Springler (five saves), didn’t concede a goal in the second half and largely kept OJR’s 37-goal scorer Mahogany Willis in check thanks to an aggressive, front-foot approach that had some of its origins in their previous meeting.
“There was a lot of motivation in this game. They claim they let us win the first time, that’s a thing that’s been going around,” Obringer said of the district third-place game where OJR extended its rotation, “and we wanted to show them that they didn’t let us win, we were the better team tonight. We came away with two goals. We had a defensive mistake for the first goal and held them off the rest of the game and we worked really hard.”
Neshaminy has been on quite a run since entering the District 1 playoffs as the No. 12 seed. Their only loss since the first round of Oct. 24 was to finalist Spring-Ford in the district semis, 1-0. Otherwise, they have won seven of eight postseason games (11 of 12 overall) – including the aforementioned third-place game against OJR – to earn a spot in Friday’s final (4 p.m.) at Hersheypark Stadium against District 7 runner-up Norwin, a 2-0 winner over District 3 champ Conestoga Valley in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
It is the Buckskins’ first trip to the PIAA title game since 2013 when they were undefeated state champions led by current standout strikers Megan Schafer (Penn State) and Gabby Farrell (Liberty). Neshaminy won the district crown in 2016.
End of the road >> The Wildcats concluded their season 21-4 and with a Pioneer Athletic Conference championship to their name. They had a 15-game winning streak in the regular season and qualified for the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2011, led by a group of standout seniors in Willis, who set the OJR single-season scoring record with 37 and surpassed 100 for her career, and All-PAC first team picks Kylie Cahill and Caroline Thompson, plus junior Kylee MacLeod.
“It’s been a combination of the maturity of the junior and senior classes, and the addition of those freshmen that really made it go,” coach Joe Margusity said. “What really helped this team was that they all genuinely liked each other. They wanted to be at practice with each other, go far for each other. It’s hard to be one step away from the final and you don’t play your best game.”
OJR’s other seniors include Kali Pupo, Julia Dalton, Danika Swech, Cody Wilkinson, Julia McHugh, Caitlin Wiand and Meghan Kirkbride.
Yearn to earn >> Neshaminy’s Obringer already has a state championship medal. She wants another, so she can feel like she earned it.
“I played for Villa (Joseph Marie) my freshman year (2014) when they won states, so I have a state medal that I sat on the bench for. When I transferred to Neshaminy my sophomore year, it became a goal to win a state medal, one that I worked for.”