ROYERSFORD >> Spring-Ford senior forward Mac Mitchell knew she might only get one chance to make a difference.
Early in the second half of Wednesday’s District 1 Class 4A semifinal with Neshaminy, she made that chance count.
Mitchell’s goal — a right-footed laser to the top corner — beat Neshaminy goalkeeper Riley Spingler for the lone tally of the Rams’ 1-0 victory, a win that sends ninth-seeded Spring-Ford to Saturday’s district championship game against third-seeded Pennsbury.
“We’ve always been taught to take chances, especially in these playoff games,“ Mitchell said. “I took the ball, I turned and decided to shoot right away.”
Mitchell’s goal came with just over 31 minutes remaining in the second half, off a Neshaminy turnover off a throw-in. The throw-in was the result of an out-of-bounds call that was vocally protested by many in attendance, who felt the ball had never gone over the line. For the Rams, however, it worked out, as Mitchell took a short pass off a steal and put the ball just between the crossbar and the outstretched arms of Spingler.
The sudden strike was a reward for the Rams’ domination of the first 50 minutes of a methodical game in which they completely dictated the pace of play. The first half featured a couple strong Spring-Ford chances, one in the opening minutes off the foot of midfielder Laura Fazzini that rattled off a couple players before Neshaminy could clear.
About 20 minutes in, the Rams’ Gabby Kane sent a cross in front of the net that took an inadvertent deflection off the goalpost, before rebounding perfectly to Neshaminy goalkeeper Riley Spingler, who registered four first-half saves.
It wasn’t until 7 minutes into the second half that 12th-seeded Neshaminy registered a shot — and it would be their best opportunity of the game. A long Michaela Boyd throw-in deflected to the foot of Emily Tantala, whose shot rolled tantalizingly across the goal mouth before a Rams defender was able to clear. Less than two minutes later, Mitchell struck for the decisive score.
“We couldn’t keep control of the ball, and we weren’t winning the 50/50 balls,” lamented Neshaminy head coach Chelsea Lovelace. “We didn’t really get going until the second half, then we had a couple chances. But you’ve got to be able to put that one best chance in the back of the net.”
There weren’t many chances for Neshaminy after Mitchell’s goal, thanks to the stalwart defensive performance of Spring-Ford’s back line of Claire Sites, KK O’Donnell, and Molly McHarg. The trio led the Rams’ defensive effort and played a starring role in the third shutout in four district playoff games thus far for the Rams’ goalkeepers Riley Wallace (second half, three saves) and Carly Lare (first half, zero saves).
“I think our defensive effort is strong as a whole,” said Spring-Ford coach Tim Leyland. “As a team, we don’t just rely on our three defenders — our forwards, our midfielders come back and defend well. That kind of effort is contagious. We pride ourselves on defending, and not conceding goals in district games is a great start.”
Both team had clinched spots in the PIAA state tournament by virtue of their quarterfinal victories. The Rams move into Saturday’s district final vs. Pennsbury, a 2-1 victor over Owen J. Roberts in the other Wednesday semifinal. The game will be played at 5 p.m. at Great Valley High School in Malvern. Neshaminy will travel to OJR to determine District 1’s third-place finisher (top 5 teams make states.)
For the Rams, Leyland said he expects another game similar to Wednesday’s.
“I know Pennsbury has good, physical athletes who can score goals,” he summarized. “I know they’ve matched up well with Neshaminy in Suburban One league play. I’m really happy for our kids that they have a chance to compete.”
And as Wednesday night showed, the Rams tend to capitalize on those chances.
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