Archbishop Wood edges Lansdale Catholic in PCL semifinals

PHILADELPHIA — The difference between a win or a loss in a game of soccer is sometimes the distance a clearance attempt travels.

Thursday evening in Northeast Philadelphia, that clearance didn’t travel far enough for the Lansdale Catholic girls soccer team. It did, however, go exactly the right length for Archbishop Wood.

A 38th minute goal by Wood’s Christina Babyak was the decider as Wood topped the Crusaders 1-0 in the PCL semifinals at Archbishop Ryan.

“It came down to one little turnover there at the end of the half,’ LC coach Tom O’Donnell said. “You have to give (Wood) credit. Sure, you can sit there and whine about things for us, but the fact of the matter of is, their kid up top got one chance, put it down and took a great shot.’

Babyak’s exquisite strike was a cruel capper on the season for Lansdale Catholic, which needed to win the PCL championship to overtake Wood for a Class AA district spot. Aside from that one volley, the Crusaders played resolutely.

It just happened that Wood’s defense was a bit stouter.

“We were looking to step up and not let them turn with the ball,’ Wood senior defender Katie Neveil said. “We tried to deny them and keep it on our end of the field.’

Lansdale Catholic certainly played like it knew its season was on the line. While the Crusaders’ back line played well and the midfield showed plenty of creativity and aggression, one area was lacking.

Thanks to Wood’s pressure, the Crusaders struggled to get the ball to their forwards in dangerous areas for much of the game. LC scoring dynamo Grace Gaus had an especially tough time, as her every moment was carefully monitored by the Wood defenders, anchored by Neveil and Sarah Eisle in the middle.

“We made sure that we knew where she was all the time,’ Neveil said. “We knew she was a key player in the office. We made sure we talked, talking was a big factor in our win.’

Yet, that wasn’t how Wood started the game. Early in the first half, senior right back Amanda McDermott got isolated in space and angrily asked for more communication.

“A couple times, if they had time, nobody would say anything,’ Wood coach Bill Cappo said. “They had to point out, if somebody had to be marked, that had to point out and say that person’s open and had to tell them. It’s a big part of the game, the communication.’

In the central midfield for LC, senior Briana Coughlin covered a lot of ground while acting as orchestrator, spraying passes up and out to the sides. Winger Sarah Opdyke was potent on the right side, while Erin Toburen and Kelsey Neri spent time on the flank and in the middle.

As is the case with most playoff games, there was an extra edge in the play, but nothing that would be considered dirty. A tackle left LC’s Maggie Wunder and Wood’s Kasey McCormick bloody as both players went in hard trying to win the ball.

“We wanted to win the second balls and the 50/50 balls,’ Cappo said. “We played hard but they played well and they played smart. The big thing was the communication, it was an important part of the game that they talked.’

The game’s pivotal moment came with barely two minutes left. A breakaway by Wood’s Sofia Filippo was closed out well by LC, with the defense winning the ball back and trying to clear it out of danger.

But, it only got as far as Babyak, who had trailed the run and found herself in a huge gap of space about 30 yards from goal. Taking a touch to settle the ball, the senior unleashed a terrific volley that skimmed right under the crossbar with 1:47 left in the half, and had no chance of being saved.

“She hit it in a great spot, my keeper had no play on it,’ O’Donnell said. “It was a great shot by them. And the beauty of it for them, that’s probably the only really good chance they have the entire game and they can it. That’s what’s so painful for us, we have to go home.’

The score allowed Wood’s defense to play tough, but not overly aggressive. The backs, and the midfielders, made sure that their tackles were ball-winners.

“We wanted to be really physical because a lot of the teams in the Catholic League are physical,’ Neveil said. “We had to play physical to get this win and win most of those 50/50 balls.’

Lansdale Catholic had its opportunity with roughly 12:30 left in the game. First, a beautifully delivered free kick by Lena Sraropoli found Shannon Kniele for a shot that was saved by Wood keeper Devon Haviland.

LC kept the ball in Wood’s defensive third, as Jules LeSanta was able to work into the box with the ball on her foot. But, no shot ever came as Neveil and Eisle came in to dispossess LeSanta and send the ball away.

“We had that one little flurry where it got in and we had a couple of kids in and around the area,’ O’Donnell said. “But that’s what (Wood does) so well. Their backs, when they had to make a play, did. That’s the ballgame right there, we could have tied it up but it didn’t happen, they didn’t allow it.’

While Neveil and her brick-wall mimicking defensive teammates move on to play for a PCL title and then in districts, the Crusaders have to come to terms with the end of their 13-5-2 campaign.

“That’s the hard part, we had a very good year,’ O’Donnell said. “This, unfortunately, is the right of passage in high school. You clean house every year and restart.’

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