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Practice pays off for Garnet Valley’s Hensinger

CONCORD — As Ethan Hensinger watched Lukas Cofone’s long-range free kick loop into the 18-yard box, his eyes lit up.

The Garnet Valley midfielder pulled off the shoulder of his marker as the line pushed deeper and Hensinger drifted back toward the edge of the box. As the ball arced toward him, countless hours of practice — volleying tennis balls in his basement, honing an improbable shot in practice on the off chance that the perfect moment fell for him — came together in one moment of brilliance.

Hensinger’s stunning side-volley goal slammed into the net in the 66th minute, the winner in a 3-1 Central League decision over Penncrest in a battle of teams vying for inclusion into their respective District 1 tournaments.

Hensinger goal was a beauty. He called off center back Jared Scheffler, who was drifting back and had only an angle to head the ball back into a dangerous zone. Hensinger knew he had it lined up for more.

“I would say it’s the cleanest I’ve ever hit one period,” Hensinger said. “I work on that shot all the time in training.”

“I was about to take it from him, and I heard him call me off,” Scheffler said. “I was like, I knew Ethan had it so I let him take it. And it was amazing.”

Scheffler got his turn four minutes later with a cracking goal of his own, intercepting a ball from his left center back spot and stepping into the attack, daring Penncrest to stop him. No Lion did, so he weaved through white jerseys, played a 1-2 with right winger Eric Albright, took a touch centrally to the edge of the area and rocketed a shot just inside the far post.

“I knew there was a lot of space in the midfield, so I just took it all that I could,” Scheffler said. “And I saw a man coming on my left, so I passed it off to my outside mid, and then I found it for them to pass it back to me. I knew the top of the box was wide open for me to shoot.”

Garnet Valley (8-8-1, 5-5-1) started Tuesday ranked 29th in Class 4A, where 24 teams make the playoffs. A win over Lower Moreland in Thursday’s finale is a must. Penncrest (6-10-1, 3-8) entered its finale ranked ninth in Class 3A, where eight teams make the postseason.

The goals livened up a dour first half. Derek Ung got the scoring started 54 seconds after the break. Keiran Wilmot made a great save on Ung’s initial header of a Keith Cressman long throw, but no one marked the center mid on the follow, which he nodded into an open cage.

“In the team talk, we basically talked about putting in one goal,” Scheffler said. “That’s all we need. Put in one goal and the momentum would definitely be changing. We knew we were dominating the first half in possession and chances, so we decided to take one and put one in.”

That one goal wasn’t enough, though, thanks to a moment of brilliance from Max Brown in the 44th. He took a free kick, after GV center back Josh Williams saw yellow for cleaning out Matt Arbogast, from 25 yards out on the left wing and snuck it short side on Mathew Ippolito for the equalizer.

The Lions could’ve (and might’ve) gone up in the 60th when Steve Woolery thundered a header off a Brown corner that beat Ippolito, but Hensinger was stationed on the post to head it out of danger. From the Lions’ perspective, the ball had crossed the line first, but the goal was waved away.

“It was really intense, but we just have to have faith in our team,” Hensinger said. “And I definitely trust our backline to keep the ball out of the goal and not make stupid mistakes.”

On both ends, then, Hensinger contributed to keeping the postseason flame burning, even if the chances of sneaking in aren’t great.

“I think that if we didn’t come out of the half like we did, we wouldn’t be in a position that we could make the playoffs,” he said. “Every single guy on this team is looking to play in the playoffs. We all really wanted it.”

Also in the Central League:

Strath Haven 4, Ridley 0 >> Nate Perrins had a goal and an assist, and JT Holstein set up two goals for the Panthers. Nick Palermo, Emmett Young and Andrew Lowman also scored.

Radnor 3, Upper Darby 1 >> Jackson Birtwistle scored twice, and David Azzarano added a goal for the Raiders. Jorge Zea tallied Upper Darby’s goal.

In the Inter-Ac League:

Episcopal Academy 2, Haverford School 1 >> Sam Wilson scored on either side of halftime, the first assisted by Harrison Malone, and Trevor Manion made seven saves in goal as the Churchmen (13-0-1, 5-0) navigate the first half of the Inter-Ac schedule without a blemish on their record.

Griffin Wada scored on a penalty kick for Haverford, and Will Boyes made five stops for the Fords.

In the Bicentennial League:

Dock Mennonite 3, Delco Christian 1 >> Henry Moon scored off a Cole Levis feed, and Josiah Bronkema made 15 saves, but it wasn’t enough for the Knights.

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