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Passing, defense send Abington past North Penn in District 1-3A playoff opener

Abington’s Shea Gormley (40) scores against North Penn in the opening round of District 1-3A playoffs on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (James Beaver/For MediaNews Group)

ABINGTON >> Maddie Hinkle knew her team could compete with anyone in the postseason, it was just a matter of getting there.

A pair of COVID-19 related shutdowns put Abington’s girls lacrosse team behind the pack to start, with a lack of practice time and continuity getting the Ghosts off to a slow start. There was always a hope that if they could get on a roll, they’d have a shot at the postseason so that’s just what the Ghosts did by winning seven straight to qualify for the District 1 Class 3A playoffs.

No. 14 Abington ran its streak to eight straight wins thanks to a dominant second half as it topped No. 19 North Penn 15-4 in the first round on Tuesday.

“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t sure about playoffs because of our record, I knew we could compete and play with any team in the playoffs, but our record wasn’t showing that,” Hinkle, a senior midfielder, said. “Once we started to move up, it showed that we’ve been this good the entire time and we can compete with these teams.”

Abington’s Abby Johnson (33) cuts around North Penn’s Danielle Preston (10) in the opening round of District 1-3A playoffs on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 at Abington High School. (James Beaver/For MediaNews Group)

Tuesday’s game was played at two different paces. The first half was methodical, slow and deliberate with Abington controlling the clock and amount of possession while the second was a lot faster with the host side’s defense forcing a lot of turnovers and the attack turning most of them into goals.

Despite having little of the ball in the first half, North Penn stuck around thanks to a strong effort by goalie Kiera Holt who registered eight saves before intermission. The sophomore stifled two eight-meter rips by Abington and kept her team within a goal, going into the half trailing 3-2.

After the break, North Penn tied the game 3-3 but not much went right for the Knights after that.

North Penn’s Alli Lindsay (23) looks to pass to the middle against Abington in the first round of District 1-3A playoffs on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (James Beaver/For MediaNews Group)

“We had over 20 turnovers, you just can’t play that way and win,” Knights coach Heather Mellow said. “Our last couple games have been that way, we’re giving up way too many turnovers and giving teams chances and you can’t overcome that no matter how many goals you score. (Abington) is a good team, I know a few of their players from coaching club and I knew what to expect, they’ve really come together and done a nice job.”

Abington defender Caroline Hughes said the early second half goal by North Penn’s Alli Lindsay was a wake-up call to her team to get things going. The Ghosts knew they left a lot of chances on the field in the first half and they didn’t want to waste any more opportunities.

In the first half, Abington won all six draw controls taken, but the Knights won four of the first five in the second half. Unfortunately for the visitors, outside of Lindsay scoring off the first, the other three became turnovers and helped start a seven-goal Abington run that broke the game open in a 10-minute span.

“We needed to focus and that goal really got us to say ‘let’s go,’ and collect ourselves,” Hughes said. “I think everyone on defense and our middies of course, really worked well together and helped make that happen.”

Hughes, who is also a top defender on Abington’s girls soccer team, was one of the team’s most effective players on Tuesday without recording a goal or assist. Most of the turnovers Abington forced resulted in a Ghosts player rushing the ball up the field, with Hughes jumping in a couple times to help Abby Johnson and Hinkle in transition and the offense getting a good look.

The entire defensive unit, starting with senior goalie Chloe Herghelegiu’s seven saves and three ground balls, through the active sticks of Hughes, Zoe Freedman, Audrey Silverman, Lilly Alessandro and Johnson, made any offensive possession difficult for the Knights.

“We’ve been working on sliding and communicating and that’s been our biggest thing all season,” Hughes said. “Our practice yesterday was the most important part for us. At halftime, we just reminded everyone it’s playoffs, you have to really zone in and show them who we are because in the first half, I don’t think we played as confident as we could.”

Abington goalie Chloe Herghelegiu (36) made multiple big saves on the Ghosts’ way to victory over North Penn in the District 1-3A first round on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (James Beaver/For MediaNews Group)

Abington’s success on offense was all thanks to sharing the wealth and the Ghosts chalked up 13 assists on their 15 goals. Hinkle was the chief operator on Tuesday as the senior doled out five assists to go with her hat trick of scores while Avery Sullivan had three helpers, Johnson and Mei Mei Cheng each had two and Shea Gormley one.

North Penn had one of its top defenders in Lanie Doran shadow Abington’s Lesha Karaba early, but the senior attacker’s teammates set plenty of picks and helped Karaba to a team-high five goals. Gormley scored four times and Johnson rounded out a solid night for the Abington seniors on offense with two goals.

“What really changed things on the scoreboard was our shots and our shot placement,” Hinkle said. “Their goalie was saving a lot of shots in the first half, so we talked about placing them around her and they started to go in.

“It’s all about communication and working together. We’ve all played together so long we can all read each other and work off each other and getting those open cuts is what we look for. We know the people feeding the ball are going to be spot-on.”

North Penn’s Hannah Mallitz (11) rushes past Abington’s Abby Johnson (33) during the opening round of District 1-3A playoffs  on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (James Beaver/For MediaNews Group)

Abington will face No. 3 Garnet Valley in Thursday’s second round. Hughes and Hinkle didn’t shy away from the fact the Ghosts will be underdogs but Hughes said they’re going to take the field with the same kind of want and confidence they’ve been playing with during their streak.

“Our COVID shutdowns showed us we aren’t untouchable and we’re not promised tomorrow,” Hughes said. “When we came back, it gave us momentum to work harder and leave it all out there.”

Hinkle believes the Ghosts are only just hitting their stride as a team after such a disruptive start to their season and while they know they’re up against a huge task on Thursday, they’re happy to be in the position of thinking about facing the Jaguars to try and continue their season.

“It’s so much more fun to play this way,” Hinkle said. “This was our eighth win in a row, which is so great for us with how the season started and we celebrate everything. We’re so excited and it’s great to see we had this potential the whole time and now we’re playing like it.”

The Abington Ghosts salute the North Penn Knights after Abington’s dominant victory in the opening round of District 1-3A playoffs on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (James Beaver/For MediaNews Group)

ABINGTON 3 12 – 15
NORTH PENN 2 2 – 4
Goals-Assists: A – Maddie Hinkle 3-5, Lesha Karaba 5-0, Shea Gormley 4-1, Abby Johnson 2-3, Emma Warner 1-0, Avery Sullivan 0-3, Mei Mei Cheng 0-2; NP – Alli Lindsay 3-0, Emily Varilla 1-1, Lily Szilagyi 0-1. Saves: A – Chloe Herghelegiu 7, NP – Kiera Holt 9.

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