Pansini makes sure AIS reaches top

NEWTOWN SQUARE — Laura Pansini’s sophomore season ended prematurely when she suffered a torn ACL.

Though her Agnes Irwin mates would overcome her absence, earning a share of the Inter-Ac League title and a trip to the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament finals, it’s worth wondering how dominant the Owls could have been with a healthy Pansini, an immensely talented junior co-captain bound for the University of Princeton.

Friday afternoon at Episcopal Academy, with sole possession of first place in the Inter-Ac League on the line, Pansini was excellent in all facets. She forced a critical turnover in the final minute of regulation to preserve Agnes Irwin’s one-goal advantage. On the ensuing possession, the Owls put the ball in the trusty stick of Harvard-bound All-Delco Hannah Keating and sealed an 8-7 victory over the Churchwomen.

The Owls (15-1) are in position to capture the Inter-Ac League crown outright. The Churchwomen (14-4) have won at least a share of the championship in each of the last 10 seasons.

“It feels amazing,’ said Pansini, who returned from injury to score her career 100th goal in April. “This is what we came here to do; this is one of the last things we had to do, to beat Episcopal. We’ve been waiting for this.’

Normally a prominent goal-scoring threat and distributor on attack, Pansini flourished in crucial situations on the other side of the field. There was no play bigger than her steal on the far sideline, deep in Agnes Irwin territory, with time winding down.

Agnes Irwin hadn’t scored since the 12-minute mark of the second half, and goals by Katie Crager and Corrine Zanolli cut Episcopal’s deficit to one. It had appeared the pendulum turned in EA’s favor.

The Owls, powered on defense by junior co-captain Sarah Platt, a member of the US Lacrosse U19 team and a Vanderbilt commit, and Dartmouth-bound junior Kate White, required one more big play to push it across the finish line.

Pansini got the job done.

“I wanted to focus on the all-around game today,’ said Pansini, who impacted the offensive side with crisp passing and the ability to create scoring opportunities for her teammates. “The attack part of it, we have a bunch of girls who can score, and I was trying to get it going in transition, and getting it up the field was more of my game today.

“Now we have to focus on the rest of the season, but this is a major confidence boost. We knew we had to beat EA.’

Keating, a junior, led the way with four goals. A two-sport standout, who earned Daily Times Player of the Year honors in girls soccer last fall, tallied two in a row to give Agnes Irwin a 3-0 edge. Her third of the day, at about the halfway point of the first stanza, gave the Owls their biggest lead at 5-1.

Keating promised not to repeat the same mistakes that cost the Owls in the teams’ first meeting, a 7-6 setback. In that contest, Agnes Irwin coughed up a halftime lead before losing in overtime thanks to Jane Crager’s game-winning goal.

“I think the first game we came out really strong in the first half, but the second half we kind of lost our momentum and got down once we started making mistakes,’ Keating said. “We realized that we had to play the full 50 minutes of every game. …Our defense was incredible today. I mean, attack scores the goals but defense wins the game for us.’

Goalie Hailey Andress, who never played the position prior to midway through last season, was rock-solid in net for the Owls. She made six saves.

Agnes Irwin was a minus-3 on draw controls, but made up for it with its spectacular defense (six caused turnovers).

“It’s been hard for us to digest that first loss,’ said Agnes Irwin coach Jenny Duckenfield, who guided the Owls to wins over two defending state champions this season. “We’ve struggled a little bit after that, and I think today we really needed to punch this win through to keep the confidence of our younger players up.

“We’ve learned to overcome adversity and somebody always steps up and makes a great play. Laura did a great job on that turnover at the end when we needed it.’

Kristin Buretta and Maria Pansini each had a goal and an assist for AIS.

Zanolli, Katie Crager and Taylor Lucey paced Episcopal with two goals apiece. Lily Crager handed out three assists and goalie Sydney Gagnon finished with eight saves.

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