DOWNINGTOWN – For as long as soccer has been played, coaches have been trying to convince players that the first minute of a match is as important as the last.
The Downingtown East and Spring-Ford girls certainly won’t argue the point – not after what happened in Thursday’s District 1 4A second round playoff clash at DeSerafino Stadium. The host Cougars scored in the opening minute of play and then held off the Rams in for the ensuing 79 minutes to advance to the quarterfinals, 1-0.
“You don’t see that too often, but we’ll take it,” said East head coach Craig Reed.
“It was an unlucky goal,” added Rams head coach Mo Hadadi. “In soccer, there may only be one mistake, but that mistake could be the difference. But I think we’ll learn from it.”
Seeded fifth, the Cougars improve to 15-4 overall and advance to the district quarterfinals on Saturday. They will host No. 20 Penncrest, who upset fourth-seeded Central Bucks West. The 12th seed, Spring-Ford’s season ends with a 12-6 mark.
“This is the type of game you are going to have to win to advance in the playoffs,” Reed said.
East has now won nine in a row, and that includes a 3-1 regular season victory over the Rams 12 days earlier. But the rematch was highly competitive as the two sides contested everything with a ferocity that often comes with an elimination contest.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game. We play (Spring-Ford) every year and it’s always a battle,” Reed said.
“This was definitely tougher the second time around,” added freshman forward Caroline McDonald, who notched the lone goal. “The adrenaline was flowing because this is the playoffs.”
Just 15 years of age, McDonald started the season on the junior varsity. But seven games into the campaign, she moved up to the varsity and on Thursday made the play that proved to be a difference.
“The ball just bounced through, Caroline got on the end of it and had a brilliant finish,” Reed said.
Moments after the start of play, teammate Emily Buckner sent a pass ahead to McDonald, who had slipped in behind the defense. She corralled the ball and then chipped it over Spring-Ford keeper Riley Wallace for the lead just 33 seconds in.
“I was really lucky,” McDonald said. “(Buckner) just played a long ball and it was bouncing, and I just settled it. From there it was just a little chip over the goalie.
“It’s pretty crazy how that goal was the difference. But I think it calmed the nerves and helped us settle into our way of playing.”
In the first 10 minutes of the second half, Downingtown East nearly added to the lead when Taylor Weist took a pass from Miranda Lawrence, but her shot bounced off the crossbar.
Junior midfielder Ella Curry came the closest to tying the score with a blast that was headed just inside the far post with 4:15 on the clock, but East goaltender Ashley Buchheit dove and batted it away with her left hand.
“Not to disrespect (Downingtown East), but from my perspective we dominated most of the way, but we couldn’t finish,” said Hadadi, who took over a program this fall that had lost 22 seniors from 2017.
“I want our players to keep their heads up and be proud of the way they played. They did what they were supposed to, and as a coach I am proud of them.”
Spring-Ford had a slight edge in corner kicks, but was outshot 8-4. It was the Cougars’ 10th shutout of the season.
“We had to defend for some long stretches,” Reed pointed out.
“It was a bit nerve-racking in the back for us,” said junior defender Maren Dougherty. “But I love shutouts.
“We came into this game thinking ‘we didn’t win Ches-Monts just to lose in our first playoff game.’ That was a big motivation for everybody.”
McDonald added: “It was a tough game and a long battle. There were so many 50-50 battles out there. And if you lose one, you have to pick your head up and keep playing because it’s not over.”
Downingtown East 1, Spring-Ford 0
Spring-Ford 0 0 – 0
Downingtown East 1 0 – 1
Spring-Ford goals: none.
Downingtown East goal: McDonald.
Goalie saves: Wallace (SF) 7; Buchheit (DE) 4.
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