Sitkowski makes like a playoff veteran with two goals in TCA win

EAST WHITELAND >> Right after halftime, The Christian Academy’s Grace Cryan started to get a familiar feeling.

She recalled last time the Crusaders played New Hope-Solebury, way back on Sept. 9, when TCA frittered away a two-goal halftime lead en route to a disappointing draw. The defender recognized the same hallmarks in the Lions’ surge out of the halftime gates Monday evening.

In weathering the storm, that trip down memory lane made Cryan even more grateful for the contributions of Carli Sitkowski.

Sitkowski scored early in both halves, powering a 2-1 TCA win in a District One Class A semifinal at Great Valley High School.

Sitkowski netted a goal in the 11th minute, helping the Crusaders settle into their first playoff game since joining the PIAA.

As the Lions looked the more dangerous side in the second half, Sitkowski dashed dreams of momentum before they could take root, blistering a volley into the corner of the net from the top of the 18-yard box.

“I know I have to keep shooting, but those really gave me confidence with that,” Sitkowski said. “I knew I had to keep going, keep shooting.”

“I think just knowing that she’s working her butt off up there from the start, that’s the best thing,” Cryan said of Sitkowski. “She’s just setting the pace from the start.”

The second-seeded Crusaders (13-3-1) advance to Wednesday’s final to play top-seeded Christopher Dock, a 2-0 winner of St. Basil in the second semifinal. The will kick off at 5 p.m. at Souderton with the district’s only PIAA Tournament berth on the line.

New Hope should be grateful that Sitkowski finished with just the two goals. She was the most potent attacking impetus on either side of the field Monday.

In the first half, she latched onto a mishit ball by the Lions’ defense to rifle one just wide of the post on what would’ve been a sublime volley had it been six inches to the left. With 13 minutes to play in the game, New Hope goalkeeper Hannah Reszka nudged a Sitkowski blast off the post, inches away from a goal that would’ve made it 3-1 and surely put matters to rest.

But Sitkowski did plenty with the chances she was afforded. She played a smart 1-2 with Lindsay Haseltine off a Grace Gormley throw-in, Sitkowski slipping into space down the left channel and roofing a shot near-post from eight yards out.

The early marker served to soothe the nerves the Crusaders felt in their PIAA postseason debuts.

“I was really nervous, but I was actually excited because I knew that we could come out and beat them,” Sitkowski said. “… Once you get in and play, you know that you’ve got it and the nerves go away.”

In the 46th minute, with New Hope warming to the game and getting forward more adroitly, Sitkowski proved she needed just one moment. She took several touches of a Gormley throw, shrugged off some physical contact atop the 18 and curled a shot across the goal that left Reszka beaten.

From there, the defense stood strong for long enough to see out the victory. New Hope scored in the 69th minute, courtesy of a carom off the TCA backline that played in Bailey Jaronski to connect with Chloe MacGillvray, who fired a shot low to Madison Dutton’s right that the keeper couldn’t deny.

But short of that, a defense marshaled by Cryan and backed by three Dutton saves kept the Lions at bay, fostering a memorable moment for the Crusaders’ veteran squad.

“It all felt like a blur,” Cryan said. “I have no idea. It’s just surreal. I didn’t even feel like I played tonight. I’m just here and I’m like, ‘what happened?’ It’s fun.”

“It’s the best feeling ever,” added Sitkowski, before the question even finished unspooling. “I’m just so excited. Our team has come so far, and I just can’t wait to maybe beat Christopher Dock on Wednesday.”

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