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Conestoga Valley clips Spring-Ford 2-0 in PIAA 4A quarterfinal

DOWNINGTOWN >> The final whistle blew and signaled an end to a game, a season, an era.

The Spring-Ford girls soccer team saw its fourth trip to the PIAA tournament in the past five years halted Saturday when District 3 champion Conestoga Valley managed to convert their opportunities while the Rams were unable to break through in a season-ending 2-0 defeat Saturday at DiStefano Stadium in Downingtown.

Conestoga Valley senior Emma Weirich delivered the crucial opening goal late in the first half with a well-struck blast from 20 yards out while senior Emily Clapper finished the rebound of a Megan Stone rip on the counterattack less than five minutes into the second half. That proved to be the final margin as senior goalkeeper Lauren Yoder earned an 11-save clean sheet and CV’s defense that was led by senior Adalee Broadbent withstood major pressure from the Rams without conceding.

Conestoga Valley’s Alexis Spencer (22) wins a header over Spring-Ford’s Gabby Kane (20) during a PIAA 4A girls soccer quarterfinal Saturday in Downingtown. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“That was awesome,” CV coach Keith Nagley said. “I was feeling concerned with them being one of the top teams in District 1 and they may have very well been the best team in District 1. I knew they were good and well organized and had 19 seniors. That’s a lot of experience to deal with, compared to the eight we have.”

Conestoga Valley, which is yet to give up a goal in the state tournament, meets District 7 runner-up Norwin in the semifinals Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.

The loss marked the end for Spring-Ford’s supremely successful 19-member senior class and outgoing head coach Tim Leyland, who is departing due to a job change, after four seasons at the helm.

The Rams’ 2018 class that was led by four-year varsity players Gabby Kane, Molly McHarg and Laura Fazzini, exits with a 76-19-7 record, two Pioneer Athletic Conference championships, three PIAA tournament appearances and an appearance in the District 1 final to its credit.

Spring-Ford’s Molly McHarg, left, wins possession against Conestoga’s Valley’s Allyson Andrews. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Spring-Ford had more than enough quality scoring chances to win the game but it never could catch the break it needed.

“Sometimes it just doesn’t happen,” Kane said. “Even as we were constantly hitting shots, it just wasn’t happening for us today.”

“I think this team always works hard and plays the best we can and I think that’s what we did,” Fazzini said.

The Rams put on a worthy performance after being overrun in the first 10 minutes by Conestoga Valley. Spring-Ford built into the game and had what looked like a sure goal eight minutes from halftime on KK O’Donnell’s near-perfect, inswinging corner kick that would have been a goal if not for the presence of Thornton.

The late stages of the first half turned frantic thereafter. A CV free kick in a dangerous spot from 20 yards was sailed over the bar by Broadbent, but seconds later Gabriella Barone centered to Weirich, who lashed it right and low with Spring-Ford keeper Carly Lare only able to get a fingertip on it.

“When we came out I thought we were dominating,” Weirich said. “We’d talked about how they played, the formation they played, and our wingers were going to be vital to winning.

“When I saw the defense shifted there I saw a wide open net. I just knew I had to hit a good shot. Scoring the first goal is so important.

“I think it set a tone. They stepped up their game after it and we had to play more defense but I think we stuck with it and were able to hold them off.”

Spring-Ford’s Laura Fazzini, left, and Conestoga Valley’s Gabriella Barone battle for the ball during a PIAA 4A girls soccer quarterfinal Saturday in Downingtown. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

A minute later, Spring-Ford had another major chance on O’Donnell’s free kick into the penalty area that led to a goal-mouth scramble but the referee called a foul to save CV.

After the break, CV cashed in on the first quality chance when Stone was found along the right unmarked and in acres of space.

“Their 3-5-2 actually works out pretty well for the system we play (4-3-3), so I thought there’d be some space on the outsides and I thought we found it on a few occasions,” Nagley said.

Stone carried it inside the 18 and blasted a shot toward S-F goalkeeper Riley Wallace, who could only parry it, leading to an open-net rebound finish for Clapper, who scored her sixth goal of the postseason.

Spring-Ford went super-aggressive as it chased the game, had a slew of corner kicks (10), including a string of four in a row, and shots on goal (11) and was largely in the CV half but the Buckskins escaped the spot down the stretch.

The Spring-Ford program will look a lot different next year with the departure of Leyland, Kane, McHarg, Fazzini and O’Donnell, as well as Lare, Ally O’Connor, Mac Mitchell, Kelly Franz, Brooke Ritchie, Angela Moriarity, Lily Nowakowski, Alyssa Gairo, Alayna Gairo,  Mack Doyle, Allie Christman, Shannan Dougherty, Brynn Budka, Makayla Brant and Emily Barnes. But the senior class’ influence will remain as the Rams have become one of region’s premier programs.

“It’s a group that helped enhance our program,” Leyland said. “Their freshman year was 2014, right off the heels of going to a state final. They came into the program where there was a whole new level of expectation and these questions of ‘Can they repeat that?’ Winning became contagious and you build on it and build on it.

“The standard is so high now and I love that and hope the underclassmen can continue that.”

Even with such expectations, the Ram players were gracious in defeat.

“We always set our mind on one game at a time. We made it very far with that mindset,” McHarg said. “It got us to where we are and I couldn’t be any prouder of this team. I’m leaving in a state playoff game. Gabby said before, there’s so many teams that don’t get this opportunity and it’s just nice to get this opportunity.

“We definitely ended on a good note.”

The Spring-Ford girls soccer team meets after their season-ending defeat to Conestoga Valley Saturday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

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