TOWAMENCIN >> Pennridge didn’t play a team that was in a match where the outcome didn’t have much consequence.
The Rams girls soccer team had already locked up the SOL Continental Conference title for the third straight season, they were going to get a first-round District 1-4A playoff bye and were playing in good form. Still, Pennridge put forth a strong effort against a red-hot North Penn team in a match that by the end, felt very much like a playoff contest.
Pennridge added another quality win to its register and snapped North Penn’s five-match win streak with a 2-1 victory Thursday night.
“We just had to stay composed,” Rams senior midfielder Ashley Groeber said. “It was about winning the 50/50 balls and getting it forward so we could secure the win. North Penn is a good team, they gave us a good run and ultimately, it came down to concentration.”
Pennridge, which improved to 5-0-1 in its last six matches, entered play as the No. 3 seed in the District 1-4A playoff rankings. North Penn (9-6-3, 6-4-2 conference), which shook off a slow start to the season with a frenetic, high-pressure system, came in as the No. 11 seed. Thursday’s setback won’t hinder the Knights much, as they’re still well in line for a first-round home playoff match.
Groeber didn’t score on Thursday but she was one of the best players on the pitch. The senior, who played nearly the entire 80 minutes, switched between attacking and holding roles, won tackles and headers, covered a lot of ground in strong manner.
““I thought tonight she was outstanding, she’s been doing some really good things and I think she’s hit her stride,” Rams coach Audrey Anderson said of Groeber. “She just seems to be a player on the field at this point who can do so much and I’m so happy to see her doing it.”
The match opened with both teams going up and down the pitch at each other but the Rams (14-2-1, 9-2-1) would be the first to crack the scoreboard. Right back Maddie Angelo played a terrific cross that found its way right to the feet of sophomore Lindsey DeHaven, who put a couple steps in away from the Knights back line before hitting a composed finish just six minutes in.
North Penn was undeterred and Rams keeper Mary Kate Levush made a couple nice stops against the Knights’ potent Grace Sacchetti and a late denial on Sophia Broadhurst to maintain the 1-0 edge at the break.
Pennridge’s Abby Groff fired tantalizingly wide in the first half, but the senior forward also kept plugging away and cashed in after halftime. Pressing high as the Knights tried to clear, Groff deflected the kick behind the defenders, tracked it down and made a nearly 25-yard run before putting her own composed finish into the back of the net with 23:28 left to go.
“We had to band together as a team,” Groeber said. “Everyone did their own part and it allowed us to come out with a win.”
At that point, the Knights began to throw numbers forward. North Penn, which had tied then won five straight since its 3-2 loss to Pennridge on Sept. 25, has used a number of different formations during its second half surge and again committed numbers forward.
“We had a much better second half,” Knights coach Steve Whitby said. “We just challenged them to win 50/50 balls and pushed more players higher to press their back line.”
North Penn had a number of players do some good things offensively, from Lauren Ruth finding ways to put the ball in dangerous places, Tia Sheehy challenging the Rams with her speed and Liv Urban and Liv Jerome challenging from center midfield spaces.
As the Knights began their torrent of pressure, the Pennridge defense had to lock things down.
“We just have to stay tight and make sure they’re not getting those slip balls past us,” Rams senior center back Sarah Williams said. “We have to make sure we’re getting everything up, everyone pushing forward and stay composed.”
The Knights got on the board with 10 minutes left when Marissa Werner poked home a chance following a scramble in the box. Emily Schurr put a long free kick in, the Rams couldn’t quite clear it and Werner was in the right spot to toe-poke it home as Levush tried to cover the ball.
Groeber said the Rams wanted to control play in the midfield to limit North Penn from getting the ball out wide, which meant winning headers and 50/50 balls so the Knights couldn’t exploit their speed.
“Aud told us at halftime to respect their players but don’t fear them,” Williams said. “We knew they had really fast forwards and we had to account for that, but we also had to fight, we couldn’t just let them run through us.
“MK (Levush) is such a great leader and we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without her. She does everything, she communicates, screams and yells, to make sure we’re all organized and we appreciate it.”
Williams had another stout performance in the back for Pennridge and left back Holly Harbeck gave a good effort in the air and holding her ground against the Knights wide attackers.
North Penn has wrapped up its regular season and will await the final settling of the district rankings while Pennridge finishes with a nonleague game against Nazareth Academy on Friday afternoon.
For the Pennridge’s seniors, many who have been varsity players since their sophomore seasons, winning a third straight league title is not something they take for granted.
“Our team worked so hard throughout this league season, our league is the hardest one around in my opinion and for us to win it three years in a row is a blessing,” Groeber said.
“We’ve been working so hard so to see that come out as the result, it’s a really awesome feeling,” Williams said.
PENNRIDGE 2, NORTH PENN 1
PENNRIDGE 1 1 – 2
NORTH PENN 0 1 – 1
Goals: P – Lindsey DeHaven (Maddie Angelo), Abby Groff; NP – Marissa Werner (Emily Schurr). Shots: P – 7, NP – 4. Saves: P – Mary Kate Levush 3, NP – Ashley Schmidt 5.
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