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O’Keefe’s brilliant moment lifts Souderton over Haverford, in to states

Haverford’s Brooke Snopkowski, left, here playing a game Tuesday against Upper Dublin, helped limit Souderton Saturday to one goal ... which was just enough to help the Big Red advance in the Class 4A district playoffs.
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FRANCONIA — Even had skies been sunny Saturday afternoon, you would’ve bet on the first goal in the District 1 Class 4A quarterfinal between Haverford and Souderton holding outsized importance.

Between them, the teams had combined to keep 24 clean sheets on the season, including a nil-nil stalemating of each other Sept. 29. Add in a steady chilly rain and field-tilting wind, and one goal might be all that was in store.

That magnified Erin O’Keefe’s moment of brilliance in the 23rd minute, the senior forward turning a pair of defenders this way and that before unleashing a perfect shot for the only goal in Souderton’s 1-0 win.

No. 8 Souderton (12-2-6) advances to the semifinals to take on No. 20 Penncrest, which pulled its third straight upset by downing Downingtown East, 1-0. Those teams will meet Tuesday night at Souderton, which earned a place in the PIAA tournament for the first time since since 2009.

Haverford, the 17th seed that upset top-seeded and unbeaten Owen J. Roberts in PKs in the second round, can book a states berth via playbacks against Downingtown East Tuesday. Six teams go to states.

The wind earned a slight assist on O’Keefe’s marker, helping a bounding ball find the forward, isolated and running at two defenders down the right channel. She cut outside, then in, then out again in the box, twirling a pair of Fords defenders. Then she uncorked a right-footed drive to the far post that left Alison Durfee no chance in goal.

That combination, of a rare misstep from Haverford and ruthless punishment from Souderton, made the difference.

“I don’t remember how I got the ball, but I got it at my feet, I dribbled around two players and I realized that I had one defender and the goalie, and the defender was giving me some space,” O’Keefe said. “So I just took a touch around her, saw the goalie coming out and I tipped it back-corner.”

The conditions largely constrained the game to midfield, and chances were few and far between. With the wind at its back in the first half, Souderton enjoyed the better of play, though few shots materialized. Averie Doughty headed a shot off the crossbar in the 10th minute, another ball that rode the wind over defenders. O’Keefe was leveled in the box by Haverford center back Rebekah Cunningham in the final minute of the opening frame, but the penalty shot went unanswered.

Haverford (11-8-2) found its feet in the second half, but it still only translated into two shots on goal, the most difficult a long-range effort from Alyssa Hayes that goalie Lindsey Pazdziorko scooped. By and large, the central midfield shield of Sara Readinger and Sarah Toche-Manley kept Haverford, particularly midfield string-puller Annalena O’Reilly and forward Naimh Boyle, out of dangerous spots.

“I feel like it’s better having (the wind) in the first half and we get more momentum and we’ve always kind of been a second-half team,” Durfee said. “So we just get more hyped and now that we know we have the advantage, we play even harder.”

“Second half, they definitely started just kicking it and the wind was on their side, so it just kept soaring over,” O’Keefe said. “So it was hard to get it back up top and to our feet, but I think we played pretty well with it.”

The best chances of the hectic final minutes came from Souderton, figuring it would try to add a second goal while keeping the ball far from their net. Three straight corners turned into three opportunities. The first, by Hannah Alderfer, was cleared off the line by outside back Brooke Snopkowski. Durfee batted away a Readinger header that the Souderton bench thought had crossed the line. Durfee, who had six saves, had earlier produced a stunning denial of a Campbell Power long-distance drive.

Haverford did charge forward in the final minute, with O’Reilly getting a shot blocked before Anna Mefford skied an effort over the bar.

The loss offers Haverford three days to regroup and try to seal the program’s first states berth, something Durfee is confident they can do.

“Right now, I feel like we’re just going to take it with a grain of salt and know that we can work out of this and push through it and keep working hard,” she said. “We’re all close and communicate with each other, so we’ll be able to overcome it.”

Meanwhile, O’Keefe and a nucleus of eight seniors have some celebrating to do.

“It means everything,” she said. “We have not been to states in over 10 years, so it’s pretty good and especially since it’s our senior year, it’s just amazing.”

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