Germantown Academy reaches PAISAA final

RADNOR — “This is our time,’ Agnes Irwin head coach Nick Spillane uttered to his team with the season on the line, literally — the penalty line.

Eighty minutes just wasn’t enough time to settle the score between Germantown Academy and the Agnes Irwin School in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association semifinals on Thursday afternoon.

And when another 10 minutes of extra time couldn’t find the winner, the third contest of the year amongst the two Inter-Ac rivals went into penalty kicks and ended 4-3 (4-2 PKs) in favor of the Patriots, who earned a berth in the PAISAA title game.

“I felt really good about our chances in penalty kicks because I think we have a great goalie and I think Victoria (Mauro) and Maddie (Hackley) are just great leaders and to just have them score the first two goals really puts the pressure on Agnes Irwin,’ Germantown Academy head coach Christopher Nelson said.

Indeed, the Patriots put the pressure on their opposition after the Owls missed the second penalty and GA goalie Katherine Stambaugh stopped the third. The Pats converted on all four of their opportunities in the best-of-five shootout.

“I thought we played incredibly tough, I thought we worked really hard … Every time something went wrong we were able to pick ourselves back up and find a way to score a goal,’ Nelson said.

“I can’t fault our girls, I thought we were very good,’ Spillane said. “We didn’t take our chances and we gave a couple of sloppy goals up.’

The high-scoring affair started just six minutes in when Germantown Academy’s Hackley won possession at midfield and fed freshman standout Mackenzie Pluck, who dashed in between defenders and saw her shot deflect off the hands of Irwin goalie Kendall Shein and into the back of the net.

The Owls were able to get back into the game quickly, however, as Lydia Bartosh looked like she had the game-tying goal — but the sophomore was in an offside position, in part to the high line the GA defense was enforcing.

“We were definitely fortunate that were able to draw them offside pretty consistently in the first half, and then we started to settle back with the weather like this,’ Nelson said.

But, in the 19th minute Irwin would not be denied, by the side referee’s flag or otherwise, when Emily Fryer connected with Kristin Burnetta, who blasted her shot into the corner of the net.

Agnes Irwin then followed up its first goal to take a 2-1 lead in the 29th minute. Hannah Keating played a ball to Burnetta, who was bulldozed by a defender, and Bartosh found the delivery at the far post for an easy finish.

But before the first half came to a close, the Patriots had one more goal in them. GA’s Emily Williams drove a free kick into the box and Brynn Skelly finished with a header and a 2-2 tie at the break.

The second half continued the back-and-forth trend as Burnetta scored her second goal of the game in the 62nd minute. But the Pats responded, as Skelly scored off a Pluck corner and a flick-on by Emilia Dolaway and the score was deadlocked at 3-3 until the end of regulation.

“I thought for the most part we did a great job of staying composed and they’re so talented up top, to be able to drive them laterally or just to hold them for even five or six seconds while we were able to recover, I thought that was the difference of the game,’ Nelson said.

Both the Owls and Patriots were even in the two five-minute halves of extra time, and the fate of each team’s season would come down to the penalty shootout.

Ultimately, GA would survive the test and celebrated its win with jovial cheers, while Irwin concluded its season and said goodbye to a class of seniors.

“When you get through the Inter-Ac and then you come out and play a game it’s a war of attrition. It’s more the season is finished, I think, than the actual loss that hurts,’ Spillane said.

“We finished second in the Inter-Ac, we’re in the semifinals of the (PAISAA), so we’re knocking on the door. Those seniors have played a huge role in it and they’ve seen the change, the improvement, the development of the program and I’m just thanking them for it because their influence has been huge.

“The expectations of the program have changed because of what they’ve been like,’ Spillane added. “The standards that we’ve set are a lot higher than they were four years ago.’

As for Germantown Academy, the Patriots will ride the momentum of the victory into the PAISAA final.

“This is like bonus time,’ Nelson said. “Last night (the coaching staff) tried to stop practice at 4:15 and (the team) wanted to keep playing and then we tried to send them home at 4:30 and they wouldn’t go home.

“They love each other and they play for each other and they’re an awesome group of kids. I feel really lucky and I think I speak for (assistant coaches) Kelli (Toland) and Katie (Martin) that we have another day of practice where we get to watch them one last time,’ Nelson said.

“What more could you want as a coach?’

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