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Gillen’s goal sends Lansdale Catholic past St. Basil in PIAA-2A opener

Lansdale Catholic players rush in to celebrate what turned out to be the game-winning goal by Kellie Gillen (10) during the PIAA-2A first round game against St. Basil on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (James Beaver/For Digital First Media)

HORSHAM >> Lansdale Catholic is calling it their year of firsts.

So far, first-year coach Bree Benedict has helped a lot of players into first-time roles and the Crusaders won their first Philadelphia Catholic League girls soccer title. As far as they’re concerned, they aren’t ready to be done yet and have their sights on the program’s first state title.

LC got started on that path with a 1-0 win over St. Basil Academy in the opening round of the PIAA 2A playoffs at Hatboro-Horsham.

“We’re saying this season is the season of firsts,” LC forward Kellie Gillen said. “We had a lot of motivation to win this game and continue on.”

Gillen backed up her statement with her effort on Tuesday night, as the junior poured out a lot of energy and hustle running down every ball sent her way, regardless of its chances of turning into a chance. The speedster, who’s thrived in her first season as a primary scoring option, also notched the game’s only goal.

The first half didn’t lack for effort but it was short on artistry. Neither teams plays many games on turf, and with a day’s worth of rain mixed in with just out of the box soccer balls, there weren’t many consecutive passes connected.

“When we came into the game, we were looking to play the ball into the corner but after the first half and seeing how much time we had on the ball, we could connect in the final third,” Benedict said. “I wanted them to combine a little more in the final third and connect between the forward line and the midfield line.”

Lansdale Catholic goalie Abigail Shuster (99) narrowly avoids a big collision while making a save against St. Basil’s Sophia Mahoney (11) during their PIAA-2A first round game on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.. (James Beaver/For Digital First Media)

St. Basil, which was in states for the third consecutive season, also struggled to connect offensively. The Panthers, a three-time defending District 1-2A champion, never really found a rhythm playing direct or through feet.

Although St. Basil played in the state title game last year, this was a vastly different roster.

“We only have two returning starters from last year and only about four girls who played more than 10 minutes in a game from last year,” St. Basil assistant Melanie Stauble said. “Connecting passes, last year it just flowed really nicely because all those seniors played together for so long. This year, it seemed to be a little tougher to find those connecting passes.”

Lansdale Catholic’s Julia Boccella (7) tries to force off St. Basil’s Sophia Mahoney (11) during their PIAA-2A first round game on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (James Beaver/For Digital First Media)

LC figured out pretty quickly it was going to have to match St. Basil’s physical style. Playing in the hard-nosed AACA, the Panthers don’t mind mixing it up, but the Crusaders had the right answer in their midfield.

Junior Taylor Connelly and senior Kris Finkleston have given LC a presence in center midfield all year and Tuesday was no different.

“We had to step to every ball and focus on getting the touch because it was a slippery surface,” Finkleston said. “We couldn’t let them intimidate us. We had to fight and win everything and step in when we needed to.”

With that pairing playing well, LC was able to win a lot of contested balls that helped keep St. Basil’s attack disrupted.

“We have Taylor and Kris in the midfield, they’re both big and strong so we depend on them to be our physical players,” Benedict said. “They’re usually up to the challenge and they definitely were today.”

Lansdale Catholic’s Danielle Mehlmann (21) readies a throw back into play in during the Crusaders’ PIAA-2A first round game against St. Basil on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (James Beaver/For Digital First Media)

LC didn’t have senior forward Sarah Fitzpatrick, out injured, but Gillen and senior Emily Schall were able to work around it. Benedict said she likes the way the duo, who are both pretty quick, can work off each other and it showed on the goal.

Schall, who gave the Panthers’ back line fits running up the flanks, took the ball down the right side and played a cross over the front of goal. The keeper couldn’t get a clean handle on the skipping pass, allowing Gillen to sweep in at the far post for the touch-in.

“I knew if I kept chasing them, one of them was going to go in, as long as we kept getting corners, getting the ball across and just getting it through, we knew one would go,” Gillen said. “Emily dribbles down with her speed and gets it across, so as long as someone is there, we’ll have a chance.”

LC’s defenders also did a solid job of limiting St. Basil striker Sophia Mahoney.

“She’s such a strong player but when they’re putting two or three up against her, there’s nothing she can do,” Stauble said. “She comes off and says ‘what can I do?’ and I just have to tell her to keep doing what she’s doing and one time she’ll break through.”

The Panthers lose four starters and Stauble said while the result stings for the seniors, it was a good year for the team in what many looked at as “a rebuilding year.”

Lansdale Catholic players celebrate their 1-0 PIAA-2A first round victory over St. Basil Academy on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (James Beaver/For Digital First Media)

LC, which won its first state playoff game since the 2015 season, will try to keep its season of firsts going into the final week of the season against either ELCO or Lewisburg.

“We’ve done a lot of firsts this year, so we said we made it this far, why not,” Benedict said. “Why not us? We came in hungry and we don’t see the PCL as a final thing for us.”

Goals: LC – Kellie Gillen (Emily Schall)

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