MARPLE >> Taylor Connelly couldn’t hold back a grin as she listened to Brynn U’Selis talk about her performance in goal Tuesday night.
“Absolute beast,” Connelly, a senior co-captain finally said. Indeed, U’Selis had been beastly between the woodwork in a game had no shortage of twists, turns, ups and downs with no moment bigger than her save of a penalty kick in the decisive shootout.
Thanks to a captain-like second half from Connelly, a big outing from U’Selis and a cool finish from Delaney Molettiere, the Lansdale Catholic girls’ soccer team edged St. Basil Academy 5-4 in a shootout following a 2-2 draw Tuesday night in the Class 2A state opener at Cardinal O’Hara.
“I kept thinking about this could be our last game and just do it for the seniors,” U’Selis, a junior, said. “You never know and when I’m a senior next year, I want the same thing in return so you just leave everything out there.”
Tuesday’s meeting saw each team own one half, following by some absolute chaos to conclude regulation and a couple of overtimes dominated by goalkeeping heroics. A year ago, LC topped the Panthers 1-0 in the same round but the rematch had far more in store.
St. Basil, fresh off its fourth straight District I title, jumped out early in the 11th minute. Tenacious defender Maddie Carter got the scoring open when she was in the right place to knock home a ball sent into the box by a long throw from Lizzie Deal. Panthers keeper Jackie O’Brien had a couple key early stops to hold the lead before her teammates would double it.
Shannon Remolde hit a gorgeous volley off the left flank with 10:20 left in the half, dipping it over U’Selis to make the St. Basil lead 2-0. After a slow start to the campaign, the Panthers came together, changed some things up and closed strong.
“I thought our girls really did play a very good game,” St. Basil coach Bob Opalka said. “They came to play, some of them played their best game of the year and I was just thrilled. Regan Bentley was fantastic, Liz Deal played a great game and Jackie, our goalie, she kept us in it. I didn’t feel right about some of the calls but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
St. Basil’s back line did a terrific job covering LC senior Kellie Gillen. Carter, senior Maria Storck, senior Grace Comas and junior Riley Scannell all had turns trying to keep the relentless Gillen from finishing one of her determined runs at goal.
Storck, Comas and Deal are the only three seniors on the Panthers roster. All will be sorely missed next year but this fall, they played an integral role in helping re-shape the team’s image after the uneven start.
“The kids just kept at it and by the end of the season, they were playing good ball and that’s all you can ask out of them,” Opalka said. “I think we’re going to be well-stocked going forward but we’re going to miss those seniors. Grace, Maria and Lizzie, they just brought it and it was a fantastic season for them.”
Connelly called her goalkeeper an “absolute beast” but the senior easily could have used that term to sum up her play in the second half. The midfielder, who played every second of the game, created one of few LC chances in the first half then stepped up and drilled a penalty kick after a handball in the box call with 31:26 left in regulation to cut St. Basil’s lead in half.
The goal seemed to reinvigorate the Crusaders, who rallied behind Connelly and she would turn that into an equalizer a few minutes later. On the run and finding space open, Connelly uncorked a blast from about 25 yards out that found its way home to level the score.
“You could feel it building, every ball that was coming out of the air was coming closer, I took one touch and looked up and there wasn’t anyone there for a few feet in front of me,” Connelly said. “So, I just hit it.”
The second half ended with a bonkers five minutes that saw both keepers make ridiculous saves to deny a winning goal. U’Selis somehow turned away a shot from Bentley that led to a counter for Gillen, who was in turn shut down by a sliding play from O’Brien to swipe the ball from the forward’s foot.
U’Selis denied another shot with seven seconds left then early in the first overtime, she came out and up to snare a dangerous free kick hit by Storck. O’Brien wasn’t finished either, making a one-handed denial on a Casey Sabolsky header nearly at the overtime horn.
LC coach Bree Benedict, a former goalkeeper, had the full gambit of emotions run across her face Tuesday night watching U’Selis and O’Brien trade landmark saves to keep the match going.
“Both keepers were phenomenal,” Benedict said. “Brynn picked up a little knock in the first half which I think affected her footwork on the two goals but she just sucked it up and said ‘I have to play.’ I’ve never seen her make a save like that, so she picked the right moment to come up big.”
Going into the shootout, Benedict tried to give U’Selis a little advice and told her keeper just to make the shooters think about it as long as possible. LC shot first, with Connelly leading off and converting for a second time on the night.
The teams traded makes on the first two rounds, then Danielle Mehlmann converted the third round for LC. U’Selis, who had been so clutch in regulation, then had one more save in her.
“I just tell myself to pick a way to go and stick with it,” U’Selis said. “I base my way off their eyes. If they look one way first, I’m going to stick with that way.”
U’Selis went to her right on the third St. Basil shot, getting low and making a firm stop at the post to put her squad in front.
“She kind of stared at the corner so I told myself I was going to pick the right side and I did,” U’Selis said. “It was crazy, but it was the best feeling.”
Both teams buried their fourth round shots before LC’s fifth shooter came up with a chance to win it. A few weeks back, when Benedict was drawing up potential shooting lineups, she wanted the team’s most confident player in the fifth spot.
The choice could only be Delany Molettiere.
“Delaney was always my fifth shooter,” Benedict said. “Delaney has all the confidence in the world to do anything in front of a crowd, she just doesn’t care who is watching. We said ‘who is our most confident kid?’ decided it was Delaney and hoped she had a good PK.”
The junior, who plays with a certain fiery brand of bravado, admitted feeling the weight of the moment.
“In all honesty, it felt like the most pressure I’ve ever had in my life,” Molettiere said. “Walking up, I can’t remember it. Shooting it, I can’t remember it. The only thing I can remember is seeing my team with the biggest smiles ever on their faces so I knew I’d made them proud and it made me proud.
“That’s why we put me as the fifth shooter, I guess because I’m special.”
LC advances to face ELCO, a 3-0 winner over Lewisburg, in Saturday’s second round. The Crusaders saw their season end in the same round last year, so they’re pretty determined to avoid a repeat plot.
“It means everything, we said last week we’re playing now to keep the team together,” Connelly said. “It’s a lot of our seniors’ last time touching a soccer ball and you don’t want to go out on a bad note. We’re one step closer to our team goal from the beginning of the season which was just to get further than we did last year.”
LANSDALE CATHOLIC 0 2 0 0 – 2 (5)
ST BASIL ACADEMY 2 0 0 0 – 2 (4)
Goals: LC – Taylor Connelly (PK), Connelly; SBA – Maddie Carter, Shannon Remolde.
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