NETHER PROVIDENCE — Kayleigh Saboja’s first response Tuesday night began with a hearty exhale, equal parts literal and figurative.
She’d seen 10 shots fired at her cage at Strath Haven’s George L. King Field, and all 10 times the Garnet Valley sophomore was equal to the task. Several times, she threw herself at the ball with reckless abandon, authoritative in the six-yard box and aggressive off her line.
Knowing the stakes for the Jaguars, that Tuesday’s 0-0 double overtime draw with Strath Haven kept them in the playoff race, Saboja was happy to do it.
“Recently, we were just talking about motivation and what keeps us going,” Saboja said. “In adverse situations like this, we just had to dig deep and play for each other and figure out what motivates us to keep on going. That really helped us as a team.”
Saboja was the most active player on either side in a game that yielded no goals but plenty of entertaining soccer. Strath Haven (11-2-1, 7-1-1 Central) applied constant pressure, but a dug-in Garnet Valley defense rarely looked panicked. Instead, the counterattacking Jags (7-7-1, 4-4-1) were perpetually one pass from cracking open the Haven defense. But the breakthrough didn’t come on either side.
Saboja’s best save came in the 70th minute, with the pressure ratcheting up. Strath Haven’s Gianna Zweier lashed a shot from the right channel that a diving Saboja got her fingertips to.
Saboja kept her trailing arm low to slide and smother a turning shot by Cayden Frazier in the 72nd, and she scrambled back into her cage after failing to punch a corner in the 52nd, diving toward her goal line to corral a header by Maggie Forbes.
“On the corner, every time she runs out there, she doesn’t really care if she gets hit,” Garnet midfielder Regan Nealon said. “She goes out there and doesn’t care what happens and puts her body on the line for us, and I love it. Every time, we know she’s going to be there to get it out for us, so it’s awesome having her back there.”
Saboja again sliding in to catch a header by Maggie Forbes. Still 0-0 52 minutes in. pic.twitter.com/s0bh8EMoVd
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) October 10, 2018
Despite the pressure lumped on by the Panthers, Garnet Valley had arguably the two cleanest chances, though both went begging. In the 59th minute, midfield maestro Alyssa Saito earned an iffy free kick on the edge of the 18-yard box. She took the shot quickly before Strath Haven could build its wall and beat a flat-footed Claire Wolgast, but she couldn’t best the crossbar, ringing the underside of the woodwork for Wolgast to collect the high bounce off the turf.
“I was just very scared,” Strath Haven center back Grace Samaha said. “But I was confident that the prospect would be positive.”
Kayleigh Saboja a huge save off her line on Ellie Malek in a corner-kick chaos. GV and SH scoreless with 5 minutes to half. pic.twitter.com/SMEX5MZ0e1
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) October 9, 2018
The Jags’ other golden chance came in overtime, when Arianna Ciciretti fizzled in a low, hard cross from the right wing that somehow filtered to the far post. It needed just the smallest nudge over the line, but winger Kathryn Toohey skied the effort over the bar.
For the most part, the two midfields stalemated each other. Nealon, a destroyer going into tackles, was aggressive and spot on in her efforts. With the Jags switching to four at the back, anchored by precise central defenders Kara Nealon and Haley Williams, they made sure the shots Saboja saw were ones she could handle.
“I felt more like I could go up because I knew I had four people behind me,” Regan Nealon said. “They had really good foot skills, so I couldn’t go out on them as much as usual, but once I saw them get an extra step, I would go out because I knew I had an extra defender behind me.”
Strath Haven’s midfield is also a burgeoning area of strength, led by a trio of talented sophomores in Forbes, Zweier and Ellie Malek. Add in Samaha, a rare sophomore captain who converted from midfield to fill a void in central defense and has paired efficiently with Naomi Dickey, and the future is bright for the Panthers, not just via their standing second in the District 1 Class 3A rankings.
“It’s really, really fun,” Samaha said. “We’ve played with each other before high school, so we kind of understand each other and I think it’s just fun and I can’t wait for us to grow even more until we’re seniors.”
The game had the larger playoff ramifications for the visitors, who entered 29th in the Class 4A rankings for a 24-team field. Getting a result away from home is a start in what Regan Nealon and company hope is a climb back into the playoff picture.
“I think especially the last overtime, it was just, who wants it more?,” she said. “And we both wanted it the same I guess. … Our whole team was just giving everything the whole time, so it was great to see it.”
Also in the Central League:
Springfield 0, Harriton 0 >> It was all about the goalies Tuesday, with Shannon Cutcliff denying eight shots for the Cougars and Lexi Calhoun turning aside all 14 shots for the Rams.
In the Inter-Ac League:
Episcopal Academy 4, Agnes Irwin 0 >> Anna Salvucci set up two goals in a five-minute span in the first half, and she added the fourth in the second half to pace the Churchwomen. Olivia Dirks added a goal and an assist, and Hailee Moran and Bella Piselli also scored for EA.
Amelia Leyden made eight saves for Agnes Irwin.
In the Ches-Mont League:
Sun Valley 4, Oxford 0 >> Chiara Robinson notched a hat trick, Jacqueline Oldham paired a goal and an assist and Kyra Green kept the clean sheet with five saves for the Vanguards.
In the Bicentennial League:
Faith Christian 5, Christian Academy 4 >> Grace Gormley needed all four goals for the Crusaders, with Kiera Cryan setting up two, but it wasn’t enough for the Crusaders.
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