North Penn holds off gritty Bishop Shanahan in District 1-AAA first round

TOWAMENCIN — As North Penn senior Amanda Laessig described her game-winning goal Monday afternoon, the smallest of cuts was visible on her chin.

Laessig earned that red gash of courage after taking a shot off the chin in her team’s first-round District I-AAA playoff game against Bishop Shanahan. While the forward understandably went down after getting hit, she was back up within 15 seconds ready to play on.

A team-wide display of toughness led the No. 12 seed Maidens to a 1-0 win over the visiting No. 21 seeds.

“I think we’re pretty confident,’ Laessig said. “We’ve won the last five coming into this. We’re on a high road right now, we’re playing really well, and we haven’t had a bad game in a while.’

North Penn faces No. 5 Downingtown East on Wednesday at 3:30 at Kottmeyer Stadium.

North Penn’s chances far outnumbered Bishop Shanahan, but until Laessig scored with 12:44 left in the second half, there was nothing to show for it. But thanks to the play of goalkeeper Marrisa Elizardo, the Maidens forwards could focus on putting a ball in the cage.

It took nearly 18 minutes before Shanahan got its first shot on net, but that shot was dangerous. Paige Plevyak fired a dart to the left post that forced Elizardo into a diving save that prevented a potentially demoralizing score.

“I think just making that first save and keeping that in mind that they can come back at any time helps me stay prepared,’ Elizardo said. “We’ve been working really hard and scoring a lot lately, so I knew if we kept working it would come.’

North Penn’s backs played stout, led by Amanda Lashkevich, Frankie Tossona and Morgan Rimmer. North Penn coach Shannon McCracken pointed to a late-season formation change that put players in a better situation to succeed.

The backs did well funneling Shanahan’s attackers inside the final third for most of the game. When they couldn’t keep the visitors from firing inside the circle, Elizardo covered for them, her biggest sequence coming on a quick double save with 8:38 left in the game.

“Frankie and Morgan have been doing a really good job on defense, along with Lash,’ Elizardo said. “We’ve all been talking and have it figured out now.’

Shanahan goalkeeper Aileen Taylor had a strong game, making nine saves and its backfield frustrated North Penn in the first half. But the Maidens could point as much to themselves for a lack of finishing through the first 30 minutes.

“We were struggling a little bit to get that shot off,’ McCracken said. “Their goalkeeper had a great game and they had some strong defenders. But I thought it was a little bit of jitters too in the first half. We missed the goal wide four or five times, it showed a lot perseverance.’

Laessig had an eventful first half, putting a shot on net, being sent off for two minutes on a card and taking said shot off her face. But as a senior and a leader, the forward jumped right to her feet and shooed off the official.

She wasn’t the only one to show a little grit. Casey O’Donnell, who played well dictating pace at the top of the midfield, jumped off for a few minutes in the first half to get a cut on her hand taped up before going right back on.

“These girls are mentally tough,’ McCracken said. “We have a lot of seniors that lead the way like Amanda Laessig. I think her getting right up and saying ‘˜I’m OK’ really fired up the girls around her.’

“I think we’re pretty tough,’ Laessig said. “When I got hit in the chin, I didn’t want to come out or stop playing or anything. I think there was so much adrenaline that I didn’t even feel it.’

While the game was tied at halftime, North Penn felt confident thanks to its goalie.

“I think her saves were the turning point,’ McCracken said. “She made that dive to the right and it just gave everyone confidence.’

The second half started like the first, with North Penn providing the early pressure. The Maidens kept drawing corners, but weren’t turning them into shots, or pushing those shots wide.

That changed on the 14th corner of the afternoon.

Jen DeLongis inserted the corner up to Laessig at the top of the circle. The senior uncorked a shot that went through traffic, took a favorable carom off a defender and clattered off the back of the cage.

“Honestly, all I was thinking about was shooting,’ Laessig. “Someone on the other team touched it and it went into the goal. I was thinking as soon as I got it to ‘˜shoot it as hard as you can and see what happens.’ ‘

The goal was all North Penn needed, but Laessig wasn’t content with just one while there was still time on the clock. A second goal would have helped, as Shanahan came on strong right after the tally, forcing Elizardo into three saves while North Penn couldn’t get the ball clear.

The senior keeper kept the ball out of her cage however and her backs managed to get it out. From there, the Maidens killed the game off by drawing three corners in the final 3:17 and pinning Shanahan back in its own end by keeping possession.

“Once we got one we definitely wanted to score, but I think we started panicking,’ Laessig said. “Towards the end, we picked up our intensity. We definitely wanted to score again, but one’s enough now.’

North Penn survived its first test of the playoffs, and building from the end of the regular season, the Maidens might be getting on a roll. “It’s our sixth win in a row,’ McCracken said. “It’s the playoffs, everyone’s going to bring their best shot. Bishop Shanahan was a great team, so it’s exciting to get that win and we’re ready to move on.’

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