HORSHAM >> Abington’s big names may be in the attack, but the Galloping Ghosts aren’t going anywhere without their defense.
Thursday night, the Ghosts back line was put to the test by a game and determined Hatboro-Horsham side as the two top teams in the Suburban One League American Conference met at Hatters Stadium. There wasn’t much time to think, and a horde of pressure coming but Abington was able to stand resolute when it most needed to.
Abington’s back line held its ground and the Ghosts scrapped out a 3-2 win to take sole possession of first in the conference.
“Our confidence comes from the defense, in a way,” Abington senior center back Arianna Mancini said. “When our defense isn’t strong, it affects the entire team. When we have numbers come back and help us, it boosts everybody else up.”
With an attack spearheaded by Cam Lexow, Casey Touey and Kailey Horton, Ghosts coach Rick Tompkins isn’t worried about his team generating chances or putting away opportunities. His focus at the start of recent seasons has been on the back and if the group can put itself together well enough to contend in the conference.
The past couple years in the SOL National, facing unrelenting firepower almost every night, the Ghosts weren’t able to find common ground defensively. Moving over to the American seems to have helped, because while every team is going to play hard and fight for 80 minutes, Abington’s defenders have been able to learn by playing.
“We’re definitely more comfortable together,” Mancini said. “At first, it was like a JV kind of style, a lot of kick-and-run, but now the passing is better and more efficient. Being center defense, you have to hold the line and Coach Rick is always telling me to be the one to direct them.
“We can work on being more technical with the passing. We’re able to practice moving off each other and get more used to it.”
Aside from Mancini, the Ghosts back line also includes Riley Crabtree, Emily Friel and freshman Caroline Hughes.
Abington (7-0-0, 6-0-0 conference) struck in the first five minutes when Horton played an early ball in to Lexow and the Virginia-bound senior did the rest. Lexow touched past a defender then uncorked a wicked shot that found the back of the net.
While the Ghosts got a good showing out of pretty much everyone on the field, it was easy to say the same about the Hatters. If there’s one trait that’s defined the side thus far, it’s toughness. Hatboro-Horsham (6-2-0, 5-1-0) doesn’t give up the ball easy and it will challenge for every opportunity in front of it.
It also means a lot to the players, who left the field dejected despite giving Abington all it could handle for 80 minutes. For first year head coach Kelsey Daley, it wasn’t what she wanted to see.
“I told them every single girl on that field played their heart out and nobody should put their head down after this game,” Daley said. “It was a great game, we ended up one goal short. I was proud of every single one of them and they should be proud of themselves.”
The Hatters put so much pressure on Abington that with about 12 minutes left in a one-goal game, Tompkins had Lexow drop in next to Mancini at center back. The move paid off when Lexow swooped in to clear a ball off the line in the match’s final moments.
Offensively, the Hatters got good contributions from a lot of players, but Emily Thomas, Kara Thomas and Mads Falcione were constant threats any time they were on the pitch. Sophia Liott chipped in the team’s first goal, striking an opportunity off Maggie O’Neill’s corner kick that made it 1-1 at the half.
“I think we’re a good team and we showed it by coming out very strong against the team that’s now top in our division,” Daley said. “My assistant Kate Doyle and I, we always tell them to never give up. If we give up, it shows on the field and that’s when we lose games.”
Defensively, Martine Royds played well in net, palming away a well-hit Lexow shot in the second half and defenders Peyton Toale and Isabela De La Torre won a lot of tackles. Junior center mid Cam Ryan was terrific as well, keeping a close eye on Lexow while also flying around the pitch to win 50/50 balls, clear threats and hammer in free kicks.
The match came down to a roughly four-minute spell in the second half. Touey, who the Hatters did an excellent job containing up to that point, was able to win a header and kept the ball in Hatboro-Horsham’s defensive third. After it pinged around, Abington sophomore Abby Bautista ran it down and poked home the go-ahead effort goal with 18:48 left.
A Hatters free kick two minutes later turned into an Abington goal after the Ghosts cleared it and the sophomore forward latched on to the ball around midfield. After heading out in front of her, Touey beat two defenders down the field, then cut into the box while shielding off another defender before tucking a perfect shot inside the far post, eluding both the keeper and a pursing Hatters player.
“She’s just a handful,” Tompkins said of the striker.
Undeterred, the Hatters cut the lead right back to one after Cam Hughes played a gorgeous field-switching cross to Falcione on the right side, with the winger ripping a perfect shot top shelf with 15:44 to play. Kara Thomas put a shot on target with about 13 minutes left, which was enough for Abington as the Ghosts went to a defensive formation.
“We staggered more,” Mancini said. “I was the last defender, so I swept up any of the faster girls. They were really fast and really good. If I was able to get the ball, I wanted to pass out to the wing and let them work it back up the field again.”
Abington finishes the first half of SOL American play with Cheltenham on Tuesday, then has to run the gauntlet again with a couple intriguing non-conference matches thrown in. As the current top dog but also having scratched out a couple of thrillers, the Ghosts and their back line know a lot of teams will be coming for them.
“I just hope we’re able to keep playing stronger,” Mancini said. “We have a target on our back and we hope to stay undefeated, keep working as a team and continue to play together.”
ABINGTON 1 2 – 3
HATBORO-HORSHAM 1 1 – 2
Goals: A – Cam Lexow (Kailey Horton), Abby Bautista, Casey Touey; HH – Sophia Liott (Maggie O’Neill), Mads Falcione (Cam Hughes). Shots: A – 9, HH – 5. Saves: A – Ashley Hopper 1, Liv Oliphant 2; HH – Martine Royds 6.
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