Tredyffrin – After battling a stubborn Downingtown East squad to a scoreless tie for more than 20 minutes, No. 3 seed Conestoga prevailed for a 5-0 victory in the second round of the PIAA 3A District 1 tournament Wednesday evening at Teamer Field.
The defending District One champion Pioneers, who outscored their opponents 107-19 during the regular season, broke the scoring ice Wednesday evening just nine minutes before halftime, when sophomore forward Annie Hirshman tallied after receiving a pinpoint pass from senior midfielder Kendall McGee.
The Stoga sophomore then played a key role in the Pioneers’ next two goals.
With two seconds left in the first half, Hirshman made a sharp pass from the right side to senior midfielder Kiley Allen at the top of the circle, and Allen hit a hard reverse shot into the net to make it 2-0.
Early in the third quarter, Hirshman took a long pass from Allen and went one-on-one with the Cougars’ goalie to give the hosts a 3-0 lead.
And no one could have been happier for the sophomore’s moment in the spotlight than Pioneer head coach Kerry de Vries.
“Annie works so hard in practice,” said de Vries. “This is just her first year on the varsity squad, and she’s [really] fast.”
With the victory, the Pioneers (16-3) advance to the quarterfinals Friday, where they will play No. 11 seed North Penn, who defeated sixth-seeded Plymouth Whitemarsh, 5-4.
There were a variety of heroes in the Pioneers’ victory at Teamer Field Wednesday evening. Conestoga senior back Dani Dittman made a key defensive save midway through the first half to keep the 14th-seeded Cougars off the scoreboard.
“Dani’s so steady and reliable,” said de Vries. “She’s been an unsung hero for us.”
The Pioneers’ defense kept the Cougars out of the offensive zone most of the game, and enjoyed big advantages in both shots on goal (24-4) and corners (14-3). Conestoga didn’t get rolling on the scoreboard until the second half, and de Vries credited the Pioneers’ offensive improvement to a second-half adjustment.
“Downingtown is fast and quick, a super opponent,” said de Vries. “In the second half, we backed our [defensive] press off about 7-10 yards so we could react on big balls. In the second half, our transition was good.”
With the score 3-0, just three minutes after Hirshman scored her second goal, McGree fired home a nice shot off a rebound to give the hosts a 4-0 lead with 16:00 left.
“Kendall has a good touch on the ball, she’s very creative up front,” said de Vries.
The game’s final tally came when senior forward Emma McGillis grabbed a rebound after her first shot was denied, then passed the ball across the goal mouth to Allen, who scored her second goal of the contest with 9:41 to play. During the regular season, Allen was second on the team in scoring, with a team-leading 20 assists and 14 goals (second to Charlotte de Vries’ 38 goals).
Although Charlotte de Vries (who tallied her 100th career goal earlier this season) was held scoreless Wednesday evening, she performed a valuable function, according to Coach de Vries.
“Charlotte was man-marked and did a great job clearing and making space for her teammates [to score],” said the Conestoga head coach. “She’s a smart player, Kiley Allen was really in control tonight, and Emma McGillis did a great job. We stuck to our game plan today, we didn’t panic when he were having trouble scoring early, and go to blast-ball. We [executed] proper passing.”
Downingtown East head coach Megan Kahanowitz saw Wednesday’s contest as a learning experience for her young squad.
“We’re still relatively young, we have only five seniors, four of whom are starters,” said Kahanowitz. “We were in the game for the entire first half against a great team with a lot of skilled players, and I told our players [after the contest] that we need to believe we can do it for an entire game.
“The loss was disappointing, but we stayed together [in the second half], our players didn’t turn on each other. Our goalie [sophomore Ava Irwin] made some nice saves, and the whole team builds off her.”
Conestoga 5, Downingtown East 0
Downingtown East 0 0 – 0
Conestoga 2 3 – 0
Conestoga goals: Hirshman 2, Allen 2, McGee.
Goalie saves: Showers (CO) 2, Irwin (DE) 7.