Pennridge dominates midfield in win over CB West

EAST ROCKHILL >> The Pennridge girls soccer team has a more than capable midfield.

The Rams’ biggest holdup is learning that they can play through it consistently. When they got that down Friday, the Rams turned it on in a 5-1 Suburban One League Continental victory over visiting Central Bucks West.

“The second half we worked a lot harder and were able to connect with our forwards more,” junior center midfielder Katie Fischer said. “We found out playing direct balls through was not going to work so we had to work up through our backs and up the sides. Sometimes playing right through to our forwards isn’t going to work.”

Coming off a gutting 3-2 double overtime loss to Central Bucks East Wednesday, the Rams (2-1, 1-1 SOL) were hoping to re-establish their defensive identity. Against a Bucks (2-1, 1-1) team that was off to a nice start, Pennridge’s back line got to work.

Center back pairing Rachel Velez and Courtney Supp led the effort, providing a wall to CB West’s direct approach. Both teams actually started with a direct mentality, but the Rams eventually played into feet and possession.

“We came out in a different kind of shape because we knew they put tons of pressure on the ball,” CB West coach Chris Shenk said. “We watched East put on over the top, but we don’t have an Emma Loving and not a lot of people do. But we have good players and talented forwards and quick ones so we thought we could get one over on a counter.”

The change paid off with 16:05 left in the first half when Kouri Peace worked her way into the box and fired off a sliver-of-space shot that West keeper Bella Perez was able to parry away. However, the rebound stayed live and allowed a crashing Piper Zimmerman to tap it home.

West followed with a well-driven free kick into the box, but it was right at Kaitlyn Moran. Fischer ended the half with a cracker from 25 yards, but it clanged off the crossbar.

“Sometimes I have that feeling after I kick it that it will go in,” Fischer said. “I had it but I just picked my head up and knew I’d get another one.”

The junior midfielder found the range early in the second half however, directing a powerful header in for a goal off fullback Dani Meenan’s corner kick. Fischer’s ability to play the entire game, keep possession and win tackles helped Pennridge settle in the first half and put on heat in the second half.

“That seems to be our strength and for some reason it takes us a little bit of time to actually see it,” Rams coach Audrey Anderson said. “The girls have a very good soccer sense and they don’t need me to fix it at halftime. I think so early in the season, there’s still that little bit of pressure the girls put on themselves.”

Fischer, who has committed to Division I UNC-Charlotte, said she and Meenan have been friends for the longest time and as club teammates, they have a terrific connection on the field.

“She’s that person on the field that I know the girls look toward,” Anderson said. “When she’s on, everybody seems to follow.”

Once the Rams got a multi-goal lead, it allowed the defense to ramp it up. With Meenan and Erin Stevenson flanking Velez and Supp, the Pennridge back line was aggressive in front of keeper Kaitlyn Moran.

Moran, who started with Meenan, Stevenson and Velez, said the back five started off with good chemistry but have also found ways to improve.

“Our confidence was already pretty high but this solidified how we were playing,” Moran said. “We came out and played as a team completely in the second half and it exemplified how we want to continue the season.”

Senior Jess Milligan opened the floodgates with a fantastic solo goal, slotting the ball to the far post in a tight angle from the left side of the box to make it 3-0. Kouri Peace pushed it to 4-0 when she chased her shot into the six-yard box, policed her own rebound and tapped it in.

The quick-fire goals were a positive for Pennridge as Anderson said she wanted the team’s effort to be rewarded. At the same time, it was deflating for the Bucks, though captain Mary Kate Vinkler did pull a goal back on a terrific free kick from 19 yards out.

“We possessed the ball very well and that’s the style of soccer we want to play,” Shenk said. “I don’t think we connected more than three passess all day and that’s a testament to Audrey and how she attacks the ball and their three midfielders.”

The Bucks are replacing 13 seniors from last year’s PIAA Class AAA title team including all-state keeper Grace Bendon, so there will be some up-and-down patches. But Shenk said his girls kept their heads up Friday and he thinks the scoreline can be a wake-up and motivator for them.

Meenan capped the scoring with 16:25 left when she bent a corner kick all the way in to the far post for an Olimpico. The back seemed surprised, but quickly collected herself to celebrate it.

“We just need to keep thinking it’s a marathon and not a short race,” Moran said. “We want to keep our momentum going through the season and not letting any losses affect us because the playoffs is where we want to get to.”

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