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Space, Connelly’s brace lead Lansdale Catholic past Cardinal O’Hara in PCL quarters

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LANSDALE >> The first time Lansdale Catholic’s girls soccer team played Cardinal O’Hara this fall, it felt a little pinned in.

The Crusaders had been forced to play the first contest on their much narrower JV field due to field conditions, but back on their regular pitch Thursday afternoon, they could open things up again. LC did just that, getting its wide players into actual wide spaces and opening up the over-the-top ball that wasn’t there in the first meeting.

It also played right into Taylor Connelly’s strong suits and the midfielder responded with a pair of goals as No. 2 seed LC topped No. 7 O’Hara 3-1 in their Philadelphia Catholic League quarterfinal game.

“We had more success pushing it out wide then going forward rather than just going forward and trying to force it out wide,” Connelly said. “It comes down to a lot of work on timing, making sure your pass isn’t behind them because they’re so fast and then being there to support if they have to cut it back in.”

Lansdale Catholic put a lot of pressure on the Lions early, drawing two corners and a save from O’Hara keeper Kerry Patterson in just the first four minutes. Kellie Gillen, who forced Patterson into the first save, was denied a goal on a terrific leaping stop by Patterson on a shot she palmed off the crossbar.

That initial flurry gave Connelly a few ideas and the senior also noticed O’Hara’s midfield was giving her a fair amount of space to operate in. If she wasn’t playing the ball out wide, the center mid was hitting the long ball up top that LC was looking for all game.

“The way to beat this team on this field was to go over the top and around,” LC coach Bree Benedict said. “We struggled to get around on our JV field but knew on a bigger field that we’d be able to. We came in the concept to play over and around.

“Taylor is fantastic at that stuff because she anticipates better than anyone on this team. She knows if the ball is going here, I can take my touch there and these gaps will be open for me.”

Connelly staked the Crusaders to a 1-0 lead with about 21 minutes left in the first half when she got the ball with space and hit it hard toward the upper part of the goal. LC also played with the Sun at its back offensively in the first half, which may have aided her effort, but the shot stayed on the right line and ducked in under the crossbar.

The midfielder added her second goal with about 10 minutes left in the game, driving a free kick off the right wing to the far post with the ball, again hit in the air, swerving through traffic and into the far netting.

“I saw their keeper played pretty deep but also liked to come out and try to get the ball in the air, so I thought I should go deep with it,” Connelly said. “We had practiced a similar play where I’d be in that position on the field this past week so that just built confidence in that shot.”

At the break, Connelly noted that she had the time to connect passes with center mid Kristina Finkelston and either one of them could then play the diagonal and out balls that would exploit the spaces the Crusaders wanted to.

The Lions tied the game up early in the second half. With the Sun now on their backs, O’Hara got a free kick from about 30 yards out that Makaila Ley hit right into the box, clanging it off the bar. The ball fell right to Julia Mirarchi, who punched home the point-blank chance.

Outside of that, the LC back line was very strong, with Colleen Viereck, Danielle Mehlman, Keira O’Sullivan and Julia Boccella clearing a lot of balls out in front of keeper Grace Cooney.

Lansdale Catholic forward/midfielder Emily Schall said the tying goal just sparked her team even more and she restored the lead not even two minutes later.

“We have our speed which plays better for us on this kind of field,” Schall said. “We’re a good team when we’re going outside and crossing it back in.”

That’s exactly what led to Schall’s goal, as LC got wide then put a cross back into the box that the midfielder was able to touch home inside the six-yard box.

“If we went to the ball and got some sort of touch on it, we were able to keep it in that area,” Schall said. “We just got a good opportunity and finished it.”

LC advances to the PCL semifinals where it will face No. 3 seed Little Flower next Tuesday as part of a doubleheader at Archbishop Ryan. Connelly and Schall said they’ll need to play better to beat Little Flower, which handed LC a 2-0 loss in the regular season and capitalizing on the same things that made them successful on Thursday.

The Crusaders have reached at least the semifinals every year since joining the PCL in 2008, the same year the league joined the PIAA.

“Our goal in the preseason was let’s focus on the process because we don’t want to peak in August or September, we want to peak in mid to late October,” Benedict said. “We’ve been holding people back, using subs to keep the starters hungry so in a game like this, when they all play the majority of the game, they give it all they’ve got.”

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