MIDDLETOWN — After her team allowed the first seven goals of regulation Tuesday night, Penncrest coach Caitlin Morgan kept an even keel.
The Lions were down but not out of their District 1 Class 3A tournament opener against Upper Merion.
“It didn’t faze us,” Morgan said. “It’s been that way all season. Not having a lead has never fazed us. I just think they knew that tonight was different. The whole vibe was different. We’ve been talking about how different playoffs are altogether, and I just think they looked at each other and had confidence they could do it.”
The Lions stormed back with seven straight goals in the first half and seized control after halftime, claiming a 16-12 victory over No. 20 Upper Merion. The 13th-seeded Lions (13-6) will hit the road to play No. 4 Owen J. Roberts in the second round Thursday.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) May 18, 2021
Penncrest’s defense, led by Kenzie Grant and Sam Lyon, turned up the pressure and caused big turnovers leading to goals. Meanwhile, freshman Kat Harding ignited the attack, scoring three of her team’s first four goals. The Lions were aided offensively by Annalyn Pompetti, who was dominant on draw controls after the Lions started to find their groove.
“We all have each other’s back, on and off the field,” said Pompetti, who recorded two goals, three assists and several timely draw wins and ground balls. “If one person sets the spark, it keeps everyone going. Everyone kept each other up the entire game and we didn’t get down no matter what. It was really awesome and I’m so proud of every single one of my teammates.”
Mia George, the team’s senior dynamo, was unstoppable in the second half. UM’s Cat Merritt broke the 7-7 deadlock 11 seconds into the half, but George quickly ripped off three straight goals. The go-ahead tally was created thanks to a caused turnover by freshman Kate Stanton, who fired a pass to George streaking to the net.
George finished with five goals and one assist.
“I think it’s helpful that we’ve been here before. In 2018, when Mia was a freshman, she had that experience and she kind of knows that when the whistle blows, it could be her last game,” Morgan said. “She didn’t want tonight to be it for her.”
Penncrest’s defense at times double teamed the talented Meritt, who erupted for the game’s first three goals and totaled a game-high six on the night. After she scored off a free position with 13:14 left before halftime, extending UM’s lead to 6-0, Meritt found the back of the net only twice the rest of the way.
“Our defense has been reliable all season. They’re so solid,” Morgan said. “We even had another player on the bench who is just as good as the four who were in there, so we have all the confidence in the world that they will get the job done every single game. They did great once again and really pulled through.”
After a shaky first half, Penncrest goalie Sophie Pasnak (seven saves) was spectacular down the stretch. She stoned Meritt and Sam Walmsley on free position shots with her team clinging to one-goal leads. Pasnak denied the game’s final shot as the final horn sounded.
All in all, it was a gritty effort by the Lions, who most certainly showed the heart of one Tuesday night.
“We’re not done yet,” Pompetti said. “We want to keep this going. We have the mindset to keep winning and keep playing our best.”
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