TOWAMENCIN >> Around Christopher Dock field hockey, it’s regarded as “The Shot.”
Said shot belongs to junior Jill Bolton and her prowess at turning penalty corners into goals. It’s not automatic, but it’s pretty close, an accurate and powerful dart with eyes on the back of the cage.
Thursday night, “The Shot” led Dock to a 3-0 win over visiting Delco Christian in a card-filled District I Class AA field hockey quarterfinal.
“Ali (Balmer)’s inserts were really fast tonight so it was quicker getting shots off,” Bolton said. “That helped me a lot more. Their defense came out strong, we just had quick shots at the top and all around.”
While the Pioneers emerged victorious, it wasn’t a flawless effort, especially in the first half. Dock came out lacking energy despite putting early pressure on.
The Pioneers got two early corners but couldn’t get a shot off from either. They also had a nice build-up from Ali Balmer to Bolton to Macy Balmer that fizzled out in the circle.
Defensively, Dock held the Knights in check, but it wasn’t clean defending.
“We haven’t played since last Thursday,” Pioneers coach Michelle Waldspurger said. “We had a bye the first round and sometimes that can happen that you come out flat.”
Dock eventually earned another corner and this time, it wouldn’t be wasted. Ali Balmer inserted to Bolton on the left edge of the circle and Bolton did the rest.
The midfielder fired a howitzer of a shot that smacked off the back of the cage with 15:44 left in the first half.
“I like the low-angle shots better,” Bolton said. “I feel like you can get a better angle off it and you can even get a tip on it too so you have more options.”
About three minutes later, the Pioneers got another corner and it was a similar result.
Balmer again inserted to Bolton, this time stationed directly at the top of the circle. Bolton ripped another pinpoint strike, pushing it to 2-0 with 12:55 left in the half.
While Balmer and Bolton have a potent connection, they also know they can’t go to it on every corner.
“We know it can go straight in and it’s definitely our strongest shot on corners,” Balmer said. “We need to mix it up so they don’t read our corners and give different girls a shot too. They’ll catch on after a while so you need to mix it up a little bit.”
The game had a high number of cards called, with the Pioneers tagged six times. With every hard tackle or collision drawing a penalty, it was hard for Dock to figure out how to play.
It wasn’t the easiest way to play, but Dock did well while it was down players.
“I think we needed to hold our composure more than anything,” Bolton said. “We needed to be the ones to lead the game and not get any more (cards). We told our girls to keep composure and keep control of the game, we need to be better players in this situation.”
Bolton and Balmer said they wanted to dictate tempo and play, but it was difficult to do so knowing they could be carded at any moment. Still, the Pioneers held possession for long stretches of play and fought through the fouls.
“We wanted to keep possession,” Waldspurger said. “We were up so we wanted to keep the ball, attack the right side of the field which is our strong side to keep the lead.”
Dock took a timeout with 17:28 left in the game just to calm things down. The break only spurred Balmer, who ended up getting two cards, to go out and vent her frustration in a positive way.
The senior captain picked up a pass just over midfield then went on a rampant solo run, starting with a sharp cut back to the middle of the field. After weaving her way past about six defenders en route to the circle, Balmer held off one more player and got off a shot that went in to make it 3-0.
“I was upset about my cards, I just wanted to really step up my game,” Balmer said. “After I dodged a few girls, I really wanted to keep going and get it in since I had come that far. I just wanted to put one in for the team.”
Dock had to play 10 minutes down a player midway through the second half after a stick tackle netted the team’s second yellow card. The play didn’t appear worthy of anything more than a regular whistle and restart, but the Pioneers again held their composure and kept Delco in check.
Bolton said the experience, while frustrating, did show the team how to play through tough spots. It’s something Dock may have to lean on in the semifinals against Merion Mercy.
“I think it helped our confidence level,” Bolton said. “It helped our younger players, it made them step up, take control of the game and fill in other positions.”
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