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Stevenson’s free kicks send Pennridge past Neshaminy in District 1-4A first round

EAST ROCKHILL >> Pennridge boys soccer coach Pete Valimont said Nick Dunn is not among the Rams’ usual targets in the 18-yard box.

Matt Stevenson wasn’t trying to find Dunn on his free kick, either.

“I was aiming for Jack Gillespie on the head – stayed a little low,” Stevenson said.

But it ended up being Dunn on the end of Stevenson’s restart from 25 yards out, the Rams senior midfielder finishing his well-timed run by snapping a header into the back of net, giving Pennridge the opening goal late in the first half of its District 1-4A first-round contest with visiting Neshaminy Tuesday night.

“If you told me Nicky Dunn was going to be on the back end of that, I’d question you,” Valimont said. “But he made a fantastic run.”

In front of the 22nd-seeded Redskins, the No. 11 Rams continued to push for another goal in the second half before finally finding it courtesy of another Stevenson free kick in the 70th minute as Pennridge earned its place in the second round with a 2-0 victory at Helman Field.

“Both balls, both goals assisted by Matty, just it’s what Number 6 does,” said Valimont of Stevenson. “The kid is an absolute stud. He’s one of the best in the league and in the district in my opinion and he proved it tonight.”

Ben Scary collected the second goal for Pennridge, which was playing it first district game since 2015 and earned its first postseason win since that same year when it upset Boyertown on penalty kicks in the 3A first round.

“It’s amazing,” Stevenson said.  “We have a group of guys that came from last year we were 2-and-something in the whole league and weren’t really doing so good. I mean, we had a good team, just wasn’t connecting as chemistry. This year, we’re all family in there.”

The Rams (13-4-1) advance to face Suburban One League Continental Conference rival No. 6 Central Bucks West 5:30 p.m. Thursday at War Memorial Field. Pennridge was edged by the Continental co-champ Bucks twice so far this season – 1-0 Sept. 12 at Pennridge and 2-1 Oct. 7 at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester.

“We had four losses – two to West, two to North Penn. Our West losses were very close,” Valimont said. “Obviously, playing in Talen Energy (Stadium) has that atmosphere of a district playoff game. So playing at West is tough and they’re a senior-heavy team. They made state semifinals. They, by no means, want to be knocked out at home in the second round.

“It’s unfortunately just the way the seeding went that two really good team – arguably top five teams – are playing each other in the second round.  But we’ll come out, we’ll have a game plan and may the best team win.

Neshaminy, back in districts after a one-year hiatus, finishes its season 10-8-1.

“Hat’s off to Neshaminy’s coaching staff and their players, they came out and played really, really well,” Valimont said. “We had them scouted and they had a handful of chances that first half and some really good stuff that put us on edge. But not for nothing, my boys battled really well. They had a shutout in the first round of districts.

“This is the first time for pretty much all of them (in districts). I think I only had two of them were freshmen the last time we were here but they didn’t contribute.”

The ‘Skins has Pennridge on the back foot for a good portion of the first half. Their best opportunity for a goal came in the 17th minute off a Rams midfield turnover, Rami Cofield bolting down the field before unleashing a blast Pennridge keeper Ryan Mayhew parried over the crossbar.

Neshaminy also had a pair of free kicks a few yards from the top of the box, but Gavin Rowan sent the first wide while Rowan shot the second over the crossbar.

“That first half of the first half, they dominated for the most part,” Valimont said. “I would say we gave some silly fouls, we gave up a handful of corner kicks and throws and we were just weathering the storm.”

Pennridge finally broke open the scoring with 3:53 left before the break as Stevenson’s right-footed free kick from the left flank connected with Dunn’s head just inside the six-yard box with Dunn then depositing it into the net.

“It was big cause we needed that to pump us up cause I think we were a little down right there cause they were out-pushing us in the beginning,” Stevenson said. “And we needed that goal to pick us up.”

The Rams came close to doubling their lead in the 39th minute when Aiden Castle broke in on goal but the freshman sent his shot across the front of the net.

Pennridge continued pushing for a second goal after the break. Stevenson let loose a shot in the box early in the second half that was denied by ‘Skins keeper Trevor Rush. Castle got free for another run but was off-target. Stevenson drew a foul 20 yards out at the top of the box yet Dunn sent his free kick directly at Rush.

The second goal finally came for the Rams with 10:43 left in regulation. Stevenson delivered a free kick from more than 40 yards out into the box, where a Scary header sent the ball inside the far left post.

“I was aiming for him,” Stevenson said. “He’s got (to be) biggest guy pretty much out on the field there.”

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