LOWER MORELAND >> Being in a playoff elimination game can bring about nervous moments for just about any team.
Luckily for Lower Moreland’s field hockey team on Friday, Jamie Mayer provided a calming influence.
The senior midfielder’s on-field vocal leadership, as well as her considerable offensive contributions, helped the Lions overcome a slow start in the District 1 Class A third-place game against visiting Springfield-Montco.
Mayer set up the Lower Moreland’s first goal, then she gave her team a little breathing room by converting a second-half penalty stroke that highlighted the Lions’ 3-1 victory over the Spartans.
“I was really nervous when I stepped up to take that stroke,” said Mayer, who will play field hockey next fall at Ursinus College. “That extra goal meant so much, though. I think it calmed us down for the rest of the game and helped us focus on playing strong defense.”
Mayer’s stroke came with 24:27 left in the second half and gave the Lions (15-4 overall) a 3-1 lead. Although the Spartans (13-6) drew six second-half penalty corners and threatened several times in Lower Moreland’s circle, they only managed three shots after the intermission.
Lower Moreland advanced to the District 1-12 Class A regional, where it will take on District 1 champion New Hope-Solebury in a semifinal game Tuesday, at a time and site to be determined. LM dropped both of its regular-season meetings against New Hope, by scores of 3-0 and 7-0.
However, since three of the teams in the District 1-12 regional will advance to the PIAA tournament, LM will have two opportunities to clinch what would be the first state berth in program history. Gwynedd Mercy Academy will take on District 12 champ Lansdale Catholic in the other regional semifinal on Tuesday, with the championship and third-place games scheduled for Thursday.
Friday’s loss eliminated Springfield from the postseason. The Spartans were hoping to reach the state playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Things started out well for the Spartans on Friday. They dictated play for the first seven minutes of the contest, taking a 1-0 lead when Ellie Hamilton converted Springfield’s first corner opportunity into a goal.
Hamilton came close to scoring a couple more goals on the afternoon, but the Spartans were never able to build on their fast start.
“We were very inexperienced this year, but we’ve really grown tremendously as a team,” Springfield coach Linda Nixon said. “They have worked very hard.
“We just didn’t put enough pressure on Lower Moreland today in the striking circle to generate offense.”
Meanwhile, after shaking off Springfield’s early dominance, Lower Moreland began to play with more confidence. The Lions drew their first penalty corner just over 10 minutes into the game. Although Spartans goalie Rebecca Berglund made back-to-back saves on shots from LM’s Mayer and Linda Tang, the momentum of the game had suddenly shifted.
Lower Moreland got the equalizer with 18:24 left in the first half, as freshman Taryn Mayer converted a feed from big sister Jamie Mayer.
The Lions then went in front for good just 1:40 later. After Springfield failed to clear the ball out of its circle, Gianna Venafra gained possession and pushed a short-range shot past Berglund.
The Lions were coming off a 6-0 loss to Gwynedd Mercy in Wednesday’s district semifinal. Lower Moreland coach Jess Ashenbrenner said that despite the lopsided score, her team showed improvement in playing support defense. She said it wasn’t that difficult to get the Lions ready to bounce back in Friday’s win-or-go-home situation.
“We told the girls that it’s all or nothing,” Ashenbrenner said. “We had the same expectations as we always do, but we were just encouraging them and being positive about it.
“We didn’t want them to be so nervous that they struggle, but we wanted them to be nervous enough where they’d get pumped up for the game and they’d know what’s on the line. I just think they’re a great group of girls, so they kind of motivate themselves.”
Now the Lions’ motivation will be their quest to reach the PIAA playoffs for the first time. Jamie Mayer said this year’s team has the right mix to get deeper into the postseason than the program ever has.
“This year, we have five starting seniors out of the 11 starters,” said Mayer, who is one of them, along with Venafra, Grace Laudenslager, Kasey Duffey and Stevie Goldman. “But we also have a lot of players who are brand new to the program.
“We have freshmen who have had to mature quickly, and they’ve really contributed. Without them, we could have never gotten this far.”
Lower Moreland 3, Springfield-Montco 1
Springfield 1 0-1
Lower Moreland 2 1-3
First-half goals: Ellie Hamilton (S), 23:32; Taryn Mayer (LM) from Jamie Mayer 18:24; Gianna Venafra (LM), 16:44.
Second-half goal: Jamie Mayer (LM) penalty stroke, 24:27.
Shots: Springfield 9, LM 8.
Saves: Rebecca Berglund (S) 3, Grace Laudenslager (LM) 6.
Corners: Springfield 10, LM 3.
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