Canon-McMillan stops Spring-Ford in PIAA quarterfinals

CHAMBERSBURG – The first half of the Spring-Ford girls soccer team’s PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal went as if it had scripted it in pregame.

Not conceding a goal and cashing in on their own best chance is what got the Rams to this stage in the first place.

Canon-McMillan didn’t know that. And they weren’t particularly interested in following Spring-Ford’s plan.

The Big Macs found an extra gear as the second half reached its midpoint, breaking through when Alena Poljak netted Sabrina Bryan’s cross before Allison Oddi scored with 4:16 remaining to send Canon-McMillan to a 2-1 victory and into the PIAA Class AAA semifinals while ending Spring-Ford’s season.

“I think we just dug deep. I know it’s cliché but we found the fire inside of us,’ said Oddi, a senior midfielder. “Once you get going, everything gets going. Once you connect a few passes they all start to come and the defense gets up and everyone feels comfortable. We all clicked I think.

“Not being able to score didn’t enter into the back of anyone’s mind (after the first half). There weren’t any thoughts of, ‘ Oh, we might not be able to score this game’ because we’ve had a lot of (close) games like that.’

At one point, Spring-Ford was on its way to a return to the PIAA semifinals thanks to junior defender Taylor Newhart’s first-half goal through traffic on a corner kick. Twenty-two minutes later the Rams season was over.

“(The first half) put us in a great spot,’ Spring-Ford first-year coach Tim Leyland said. “It’s the way I thought and hoped the match would turn out. We got the early goal, we go up 1-0, but their grit and determination came through and they were able to get two goals in the second.’

“(Canon-McMillan) played a great game. I thought they found another gear.’

District 7 runner-up Canon-McMillan, making its first trip to states since 2009, came in riding a 7-0 win over District 6 champion State College in Tuesday’s first round.

The Macs didn’t expect the same lopsided result. In fact, they didn’t know what to expect from the District 1 No. 5 seed, which suited Oddi and her teammates just fine.

“I really liked not knowing anything about the other team,’ Oddi said. “The teams in our section (WPIAL Section 4) are so good — we play Peters Twp. three times, Moon three times — and you know everybody on the other team. Now, against a team where you don’t know anybody it’s kind of liberating. You can be yourself and play your game.’

The unfamiliarity was fine for the Rams, too, as they didn’t concede a single quality chance in the first half — the defense of Newhart, Laura Suero, Amy Roth and Missy Moore looking up to the task while goalkeeper Jenna Griggs made three saves.

Spring-Ford began the second half positively and had a good chance through a pretty passing move between senior Brynn Hellberg and freshman Laura Fazzini while avoiding a dangerous spot when a miscommunication allowed Bryan, who scored four goals in the win over State College, under the defense but her shot missed wide left by inches.

As the midway point of the second half approached, Canon-Mac turned it on and quickly struck when Bryan carried the ball to the left end line and crossed to the far post to Poljak to tie it.

It was the lift the Macs were seeking as they stayed and bore down on the Spring-Ford goal, at one point inducing three straight corners. Canon-Mac nearly took the lead three minutes after the goal on a breakaway by sophomore Aideen O’Donoghue but she was put off at the last second by Moore.

The pressure continued to mount until the Macs quickly played a free kick from 22 yards out to Oddi on the edge of the penalty area. Her shot deflected off a Rams defender and over Griggs’ head for the eventual game-winner.

It halted Spring-Ford’s attempt to return to the PIAA final — a 2-1 overtime loss to Neshaminy in 2013. But Spring-Ford’s two-year run, including this year’s trip to the quarterfinals, is the second-best two-year run of any soccer team in area history, one win short of Owen J. Roberts in 2003 and 2004 when the Wildcats won the PIAA championship and reached the quarters the following year.

“The girls said it afterward, we want to set a standard for all Spring-Ford teams, set a standard for the program and set a standard for the underclassmen. I think the senior class did it,’ Leyland said. “To go to a state final and then to a state quarterfinal … in a game like this there are eight teams left and it was a one-goal game and they competed. That’s all you can ask for.’

Seniors Griggs, Hellberg, Carrie Baumgartner, Erica Mastromatto, Emily Counts and Haley Varlotta all featured in the semifinal and have helped to change the conversation for Spring-Ford girls soccer.

“In their four years, the transformation they’ve been a part of has been huge. In 2011, they had six wins and it was a struggle to get six wins. We were a doormat,’ Leyland said. “You look now and we’re in the state playoffs two years in a row. There’s no way anyone would have predicted this four years ago.’

With eight starters including standout forward Gabrielle Vagnozzi and the entire back four returning, there’s no reason to think a third straight trip to the PIAA playoffs can’t happen.

“We have the players to keep this rolling,’ Leyland said. “It’s not a two year and we’re gone thing, we’d like to stay around and continue to compete for a PAC-10 title, get back into districts and — this is the goal — to compete for a state championship. We proved two years in a row we can do it.’


Spring-Ford midfielder Bri Cirino started the game but left early and didn’t return with an apparent thigh injury while Varlotta injured her leg in the second half and didn’t return. Vagnozzi suffered a bloody nose in a collision in the first half, but did return. … Griggs made three saves while CM counterpart Kyra Murphy made five. … Canon-McMillan led in corners, 5-3, and scored on both of its shots on goal in the second half.

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