TOWAMENCIN >> Only when the brackets are revealed will Shannon McCracken finally feel secure about the North Penn field hockey team making in the district postseason.
“You never feel OK until Thursday night at the seeding meeting, until it comes out,” the Knights coach said.
Fighting to earn one of the final spots in the District 1-3A tournament, North Penn gave those hopes a good boost Tuesday night against a visiting Pennridge side also trying to improve its playoff chances.
The tight SOL Continental Conference matchup was scoreless until Eleni Kountroubis struck 10 minutes into the second half and the Knights made the goal hold up to edge the Rams for a 1-0 Senior Night victory.
“We were all super-nervous and really hyped because it was our Senior Night and all the seniors really, really pumped for the game,” Kountroubis said. “And our energy was so high. We were just all really working well with each other and make it the best game possible for our seniors and we all worked really well as a team together. And we wanted to better ourselves and make it to districts.”
An up-and-down season for North Penn (8-8-1, 6-6-0 conference) is on a bit of an upswing as the Knights look to return to districts after a one-year absence. Tuesday’s win was the third in the last four games for NP, which now sits 19th in the 3A power rankings with 24 teams making the postseason.
“It was a great win for us tonight. We’ve had our ups and downs and tonight was a really solid win,” McCracken said. “We played really well as a team, the girls played up, especially cause it’s Senior Night and we had lost to Pennridge 2-0 the first time we played them and we didn’t feel like we gave them our best game that day.”
“So coming back tonight it was important to give them our best game. It was a great game, Pennridge is a good team, they’re quick on the ball. But our passing to create the goal was an awesome goal, that was really fun.”
Pennridge looks as likely as the Knights to make districts — sitting just behind NP at 20th — but the Rams have found themselves in a late skid, having now lost five straight — the last three defeats each coming by a goal.
“Even if we’re getting in the playoffs now it just puts us on a little more anxiety with it,” Pennridge coach Becky Spahr said. “But, right, going into playoffs you want to get some wins and get that momentum but I feel like we’re playing good hockey, we’re just not catching a break which it’ll click at some point.”
Both teams end their regular seasons Wednesday. Pennridge visits Souderton at 6:30 p.m. with the home side Indian claiming a share of the SOL Continental title with a win. North Penn, meanwhile, hosts SOL American champ Plymouth Whitemarsh at 3:45 p.m.
“We’ve had some inconsistency and part of it is we’ve had some injuries that we’ve dealt with. We also are young and inexperienced,” McCracken said. “A lot of my upperclassmen were not starters from the varsity team last year so you combine all that and that sometimes can create some inconsistency. Young teams tend to play inconsistent sometimes.
“I’m proud of the way we’ve grown this season and hopefully we’re hitting our momentum at the right time and maybe we’ll surprise someone if we’re lucky enough to get into the tournament.”
Kountroubis collected Tuesday’s lone goal with 20:04 remaining in the second half. Baylen Detweiler provided the assist, sliding a pass across the circle to a charging Kountroubis, who stepped into a shot and slid the ball in for the 1-0 Knights lead.
“So my teammates just passed it up and down the field and it was a give-and-go from Bay to me,” Kountroubis said. “And I just popped it right in. But it was so easy because my teammates passed it right to my stick.”
Shortly after Kountroubis’ tally, Pennridge earned its second and last penalty corner. Abby Ludlow found Emily Amsden in the center of the circle but Amsden could not get much on her shot and the ball rolled to the feet of NP keeper Madison Stowell. The loose ball found its way back to Ludlow but her cross from the right did not find a stick and went out of play at the end line.
“We just didn’t create offensive opportunities,” Becky Spahr said. “Or when we did, we were really down numbers so stuff to work on, we’ve been doing better offensive and North Penn did a really good job of slowing that down.”
North Penn earned five of its six corners in the first half but had a couple come up empty due to Rams keeper Mia Machado, who finished the contest with 10 saves.
“She’s doing a really good job of making decision of moving her feet, staying on her feet, going down, all that stuff,” said Spahr of Machado. “I’m super-impressed with her.”
Machado stopped a Megan Albert blast on the Knights’ first corner then got a piece of a Kountroubis redirect on North Penn’s fifth corner.
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