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Smolij, Owen J. Roberts secure PAC playoff spot with 1-0 win over Spring-Ford

ROYERSFORD >> Spring-Ford head field hockey coach Jennie Anderson knew what was on the line heading into Tuesday evening’s matchup with Owen J. Roberts.

A win, and the Rams would close in on a spot in the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs.

A loss, and playoff dreams would vanish for the blue and gold.

Spring-Ford played the Wildcats tight throughout Tuesday evening’s game but didn’t have enough firepower as sophomore midfielder Raina Smolij’s goal in the 35th minute secured OJR’s 1-0 win in this PAC Liberty Division matchup.

Spring-Ford’s Kate Crist carries the ball upfield while Owen J. Roberts’ Bridget Gallagher closes in on defense. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

“We held our own; we had our opportunities and we just didn’t capitalize on them,” said Anderson. “They did. We fought from start to finish, but couldn’t get anything to show for it.”

With the win, Owen J. Roberts improves to 7-2 in the Liberty Division (10-2 PAC; 14-2 overall) and secures the No. 3 seed in next week’s PAC Final Four playoffs. The Wildcats will be in the hunt for their fourth straight trip to the PAC Championship game and their third conference title since 2015.

The loss drops Spring-Ford to 5-5 in the Liberty (7-5-1 PAC; 10-6-1 overall), as the Rams will miss the PAC playoffs for the second straight season.

Owen J. Roberts will close out its PAC regular season slate with a home matchup against Methacton on Thursday before hosting Unionville in a non-league matchup on Saturday. Spring-Ford will host West Chester Henderson on Friday afternoon.

Tuesday evening’s result included, Owen J. Roberts is now in the midst of a five-game winning streak featuring five defensive shutouts. The Wildcats have outscored the opposition 33-0 during that run, which dates back to a 2-1 overtime loss against the Liberty Division’s top seed, Perkiomen Valley (18-0 overall).

“After losing to PV, we realized that we needed to wake up and close out the season strong to get to playoffs,” said Smolij. “That was our goal to get to PACs then to districts and states. We just needed to get into that mindset to go and get those wins.”

Spring-Ford’s Kate Crist (32) sends one upfield while Owen J. Roberts’ Eloise Gebert closes in on defense. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

Smolij’s game-deciding goal was anything but a given.

With OJR’s attack putting pressure on Spring-Ford’s defense five minutes into the second half, Smolij finished a free ball on a frenzy in front of the cage to secure a lead that the Wildcats wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the night.

“It was a scramble to get it into the goal,” recalled Smolij. “I just stepped up when I saw the ball roll free. It was exciting to get a shot on net and hear it go off the backboard. To know that I scored the goal and we were winning, it gave me a lot of energy.”

That would be all the offense the Wildcats could muster as Spring-Ford keeper Ashley Della Guardia posted 11 saves in the cage as the Rams’ last resort on defense. She was a wall in front making big stop after big stop, inlcuding an OJR possession where she picked up three kick saves on a pair of penalty corners.

“The score could have been a lot worse than what it was,” said Anderson. “Ash really played a heck of a game for us. She was huge in goal.”

Up against a Spring-Ford team they had beaten 4-1 earlier in the season, OJR head coach Amy Hoffman knew the stakes were much higher coming into the teams’ second meeting.

Spring-Ford’s Ariana Magazzolo, left, and Owen J. Roberts’ Jenna Kirby give chae to a loose ball during Tuesday night’s game. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

“We figured it would be a tougher battle this time around. We know they’ve improved and we knew they’ve gotten stronger since last time we played them,” said Hoffman. “Spring-Ford is such a feisty team and they have so much speed. We knew we needed to control our passes and control the passing lanes against them.”

And now stuck watching the PAC playoffs unfold from home for the second straight season, Anderson hopes her team can pick up some momentum as they prepare for the District One Class AAA playoffs, which start up later this month.

“We need to get back to doing the little things,” said Anderson. “(We need to) fix what we didn’t do tonight and get some momentum going into playoffs since we’ll have that long layoff.”

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