Youthful Strath Haven no match for Neshaminy

MIDDLETOWN TWP. >> Carly Perlman had scouted Neshaminy, her Tuesday night opponent. But the walk from the Strath Haven team bus to the field at Harry Franks Stadium gave her what the scouting report could not.

The size of Neshaminy’s players awed Perlman, said Strath Haven’s goalkeeper.

“Walking over here, I saw how big they were,” she said. “They’re mostly seniors, and we’re mostly underclassmen. I mean, we play a very physical game, just not as physical as other teams.”

Perlman and the Panthers watched their season come to a close with a 4-1 loss to Neshaminy in the first round of the District 1 Class 4A tournament. Jackie Ziegler and Kristin Curley each contributed a goal and an assist for the Redskins (13-5-1). The reigning district champs earned a Thursday visit to fifth-seeded Conestoga.

Neshaminy’s size and speed tilted the game in its favor. The Redskins scored twice on headers by unmarked attacking players and another off a corner kick.

Strath Haven gameplanned for Neshaminy’s size. Panthers coach Gino Miraglia urged his players to play the long ball early on, stretch the Neshaminy defense and put the Redskins on their heels.

It worked. The Panthers struck first, with Ellie Malek finishing a pass from Cayden Frazier in the game’s fourth minute.

“Then, things changed,” Miraglia said.

Ziegler scored in the 16th off a great touch pass from Curley, who put Neshaminy ahead for good with a goal of her own in the 24th. Michaela Boyd slotted one home in the 29th, and Nicole Palmer capped the scoring with a 54th-minute header.

“Neshaminy’s off-ball movement is impressive,” Miraglia said. “After those first five minutes, they beat us to everything. Every single 50-50 ball, we got outworked all over the field. Once we couldn’t connect — and we tried to play possession ball — it was panic mode, momentum shifted, and we couldn’t get the job done. They were the better team.”

The 21st-seeded Panthers (11-8-0) probably would not have made it this far without an early-season adjustment. Injuries befell Miraglia’s back line, thrusting career midfielder Elisa Kruse into an unfamiliar spot.

“I got a text from (Miraglia) after the second game and he said, ‘Kruser, how do you feel about playing centerback?’” she said. “I said, ‘Centerback? I haven’t played that position since I was 10.’ I’ve been a midfielder all of my high school and middle school career. It was a big jump. Carly and Claire (Wolgast) helped me out, and they were supportive about it.”

Kruse brought continuity to a weak spot on the pitch for a young Strath Haven team. Miraglia, the team’s longtime coach, said he’s never had to field a varsity roster with five freshmen. He started all of them this season, plus two sophomores.

“Since the fifth game of the season, (Kruse) has been an 80-minute player. She shut down so many talented scorers,” Miraglia said. “In a way, she saved our season.”

Even if it ended a bit earlier than the Panthers would have liked.

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