EAST ROCKHILL >> The scenario kept playing itself out Thursday night at Helman Field.
A Pennridge player or players would go right at Pennsbury’s defense, fighting through a series of feet and shins trying to dislodge the ball, maybe eluding one of the sacrificial Falcons ready to put their body in front of a shot and finally having a shot turned away by Emma Corso. It kept happening until Liv Grenda had seen enough of it.
The freshman’s second goal of the night proved the game winner as the No. 3 Rams finally broke through and topped the No. 11 Falcons 3-1 in their District 1-4A girls soccer quarterfinal.
“Our team as a whole just turned it on,” Grenda said. “We knew where each other were going to be on the field and we just wanted to connect with each other, attack, pick up the intensity and have the urgency to come back and keep going at them.”
Pennridge, which burst past No. 14 Great Valley 6-1 in its first district game, knew the battle-tested Falcons were bringing a totally different challenge. A tough and physical team, Pennsbury had rallied past SOL Patriot rival No. 6 Council Rock South in the first round and with a strong senior class along with a standout forward in sophomore Taylor Mays, would give the Rams a game.
For the Rams’ contingent of freshmen like Grenda, Tori Angelo, Anna Croyle and Casey Malone, it was a test of all they had learned winning the SOL Colonial title. Just 10 minutes in, Pennridge’s mettle was put on the line when a breakdown allowed Pennsbury senior Olivia Gentile to power a shot through a save attempt by Sierra Shaeffer for a 1-0 lead.
The Rams haven’t trailed often this fall and when they have, they’ve usually responded.
“None of us like being down,” Grenda said. “Being scored on, it’s one of the hardest things to come back from in soccer and we all knew this would be our last game if we lost, so we didn’t want to let that happen.”
Pennsbury’s lead last about a minute. Leah Malone battled down the left flank to get the ball into the box, where Grenda was able to weave around a couple defenders and slot a ball past Corso for the 1-1 tie.
While the score stayed level to the halftime break, the Rams had started to take over the tempo and began generating a steady stream of chances as Pennsbury’s defense withstood the siege. After the break, the Rams realized they could help their center midfielders find room by using the space on the flanks.
For freshman forward Tori Angelo and senior right back Kera Dam, it was almost open season on pressing up the line, challenging defenders and playing the ball back across the middle.
“Our forwards and outside backs have a lot of speed, so we practice getting up the field all the time,” Dam said. “Casey and I, we want to be dangerous. I know I’m looking to get up as much as I can to cross the ball or get shots on. We all wanted it, we’ve been practicing all of this all season.”
The ongoing siege picked up again quickly after halftime, only instead of trebuchets, ballistas and catapults, it was a barrage of shots from Riley Hepler, Leah Malone and even center backs Cady McKean and Croyle testing the Falcons defense. In between those shots that actually got to the goal, the Falcons kept getting in the way of others in a determined effort not to concede a lead.
Corso, a junior and first-year starter in goal, was tremendous. She made 13 saves, including a sliding point-blank denial on Grenda midway through the second half and Falcons co-head coach Kaitlyn Battiste felt her defense did all it could.
“My hat’s off to Emma, she had an amazing game, they had to work really hard and credit them, those were three beautiful goals,” Battiste said. “It’s a credit to their attackers and their midfield, they’re very organized and very disciplined. Emma came up huge and that game could have gotten away from us a lot earlier.”
Angelo didn’t start the game, but she was on the field to begin the second half and gave Pennridge a steady dose of just what it needed. The freshman is also playing the season for her older sister Maddie, a senior co-captain out for the year with a knee injury, and brought the right mix of attacking mentality and physicality the Rams needed.
With Pennsbury playing three in the back and crowding the midfield, Angelo and Dam helped stretch things out with their constant runs down the right flank while sisters Casey and Leah Malone did the same on the left.
“We knew we had to dribble with speed at them and when we did that, they likely couldn’t keep up,” Angelo said. “If they could, we were going to make them foul us and create a set play.”
All that work on the flanks finally opened some room in the middle, which Grenda was again able to capitalize on. The freshman, who said she’s always being encouraged to be aggressive and go at defenders by upperclassmen like midfielder Lindsey DeHaven, didn’t hesitate at all on Thursday.
Making a beeline for the goal, she drew in a backpedaling Falcons defender about 20 yards out, stopped on a dime and struck the ball with her left foot for the go-ahead goal with 13:36 to play.
“We kept turning it on, kept going forward and kept trying until our chance came,” Grenda said. “We took every opportunity and made it count.”
DeHaven, Dam and McKean were the only three senior starters for Pennridge on Thursday but the Rams didn’t look like a team full of freshmen and underclassmen playing for their season. Dam, part of a defense that held Pennsbury to just one shot on goal and kept Mays from causing much trouble, said its due to the team’s close-knit makeup.
“As soon as we started training, that first day back in August, we wanted to become close as a team,” Dam said. “We’ve been together every day since then and it’s built such a good friendship, it’s almost like a sister bond. Becoming so close like that really helps us play well together.”
Angelo, for all the hard work she had been doing, had been in a bit of a scoring slump. As the clock ticked near the five minute mark, she took the ball from Dam, physically separated from a defender and buried the insurance goal to the far post.
“I was relieved I finally broke my streak of not being able to get one in the back of the net,” Angelo said. “I’d been unlucky with a lot of my shots the past few games, but having my teammates all come to congratulate me is a feeling you never forget.”
Pennridge will visit No. 2 Abington, a 4-0 winner against No. 7 Avon Grove in the semifinals on Tuesday.
“(Wednesday) at practice, we just worked on different scenarios and what we would do. We had an extremely good practice and I thought the girls would come into this game with a lot of confidence,” Rams coach Audrey Anderson said. “I thought it was important for them not to panic. Everybody played with such composure, it was important for the underclassmen to see that.”
PENNRIDGE 1 2 – 3
PENNSBURY 1 0 – 1
Goals: Pr – Liv Grenda, Grenda, Tori Angelo; Pb – Oliva Gentile. Shots: Pr – 16, Pb – 1. Saves: Pb – Emma Corso 13