EAST ROCKHILL >> For as big as a soccer goal is, it can still be a staggeringly difficult task to actually put a shot away inside its confines.
At the midpoint of Tuesday’s District 1 Class 4A girls soccer opening round game, that’s where host No. 9 Pennridge found itself against visiting No. 24 Council Rock South. There are a lot of factors to consider such as shot placement, angle, quality of service, the keeper and so on and it can be a lot to process which can complicate the whole production.
Emily Kriney has been through it quite a bit in her four years with the Rams however and when her chance came, she made the most of it.
The senior forward’s goal, plus another robust defensive effort was enough to push the defending PIAA champions past the Golden Hawks 1-0 in a match where seemingly every single pass or touch was contested at Helman Field.
“Honestly, you just have to go as hard as you can as long as you’re out there. I don’t think any of us want this season to end,” Kriney said. “We want it to last as long as possible. We know what it’s like to win a state championship but also lose a state championship, the seniors, we’ve experienced almost everything
Tuesday was the second meeting between the sides this fall, with Pennridge besting the Hawks 5-0 on Oct. 4 during SOL crossover play. From that point on, CR South was a different squad, winning seven of eight just to qualify for the playoffs and meshing a good mix of veteran and new players after a slow and injury-filled start to the season.
The Rams, who were knocked out of a first round bye on the last day of the season by other results around the district, knew not to expect the same kind of result. Sophomore fullback Casey Malone got a full taste of the playoff experience last year and she was fully prepared to face the best the Hawks had as a confident team playing its best soccer of the season.
“We know postseason is completely different than what we’ve gone through before so we couldn’t take them lightly,” Malone said. “They’re a skilled group, so we had to make sure our intensity was high and we played as a team.”
Malone, along with center backs Lauren Murphy and Anna Croyle plus fullback Lindsey Balmer, helped keeper Sierra Shaeffer pick up her 13th shutout of the season. While Shaeffer didn’t face a direct shot on goal, she was able to handle a nervy moment when a deflection popped skyward only for the senior to bring it in.
Outside of that, it was the backs and midfield stepping in to challenge the ball at every turn. Sophomore Hannah Primwhere, who has filled in at holding midfield in the wake of some injuries, continued her solid play while every back had at least one crucial tackle. Croyle was especially strong, rising up to head away a dangerous first half cross and stepping in for a big stop in the final three minutes.
“Everybody is playing for the same thing right now and that’s to stay in the season,” Pennridge coach Audrey Anderson said. “The second half, we were a lot more composed. Our defense has done a really good job all season, we’ve given up six goals in 19 games so at some point we have to make sure our offense is also improving and working hard to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Kriney missed last season’s playoff run, out with a torn ACL so she’s eager to make up for lost time. The senior, who is still wearing a cumbersome knee brace she’s developed a hate-hate relationship with this fall, played like it too, putting five shots on target and having another with eyes for the goal blocked by a CR South defender.
She had the best chance of the first half on a close-range tap but was denied by a combination of a Karissa Smedley save and Kim Speiser clearing the remains off the line just before the break.
Early in the second half, senior Leah Malone timed a ball perfectly to Kriney and the speedster was in alone behind the back line. She picked her spot low and drove the ball in, giving Pennridge a lead with 33:46 to play.
“We always say it in practice, ‘the goal is 24 feet,’ so you have to look everywhere but where the goalie is so that’s just what I did,” Kriney said.
Pennridge had an up-and-down first half offensively and at the break, the team talked about getting the outside backs involved and looking for the early ball up the field. With Casey Malone and Balmer, the Rams have two really good options on the flanks and once they started getting forward, the lanes and channels started to open up.
“We communicate really well and know each other so well it comes as second nature,” Casey Malone said. “We always stay connected and have each other’s backs so if there’s one of us there, we always know there’s another behind.”
Kriney wasn’t on the field in Hershey for the state final in 2018 or 2020, but she’s made it a personal goal to be there this year and her teammates seem to be following suit.
The next step is getting past No. 8 West Chester Henderson, the team that jumped the Rams in the district rankings, on Thursday afternoon.
“That’s what we need at this point of the season,” Rams coach Audrey Anderson said. “We need the experienced players that know what it’s like to step up and show everybody else ‘this is what you have to do to win in the postseason.’ What happened in the regular season, it doesn’t matter, it’s what we’re doing now. All that was practice to get us here.”
PENNRIDGE 1, COUNCIL ROCK SOUTH 0
PENNRIDGE 0 1 – 1
COUNCIL ROCK SOUTH 0 0 – 0
Goals: P – Emily Kriney (Leah Malone)
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