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Strath Haven’s season ends with frustrating loss at O’Loughlin’s hands

NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Trailing by one midway through the second half, Strath Haven defender Julianne DeCarlo unleashed the kind of shot the Panthers had been waiting for all night. She caught the ball perfectly with her left foot from 30-some yards out, sending it flying to the top corner of the Downingtown West goal. The District One Class AAA playoff game, temporarily, looked destined for extra time, or at least a dramatic finish.

Whippets keeper Morgan O’Loughlin had other ideas. She took one step towards DeCarlo’s strike then dove back to tip the ball onto the crossbar and out of play. DeCarlo dropped to her knees and covered her face in disbelief. Strath Haven coach Gino Miraglia asked incredulously, “How did she stop that?”

The save preserved a 1-0 win for 10th-seeded West, though the result still left Miraglia’s question unanswered: How did she stop that?

Strath Haven’s Clarie VanDuyne gets her head on the ball while being pressured by Downingtown West’s Gina Peraino during a District One Class AAA playoff game Thursday night. VanDuyne and the Panthers suffered a 1-0 setback. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Strath Haven’s Clarie VanDuyne gets her head on the ball while being pressured by Downingtown West’s Gina Peraino during a District One Class AAA playoff game Thursday night. VanDuyne and the Panthers suffered a 1-0 setback. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

“I don’t know,” said O’Loughlin nonchalantly. “Maddie (Grim) had saved one off the line in the first half” — a corner that, as fate would have it, DeCarlo took — “so I need to have their back. I just kind of dove and got to it.”

“We all thought it was going in,” said Panthers centerback Claire VanDuyne. No. 7 Strath Haven had more chances to equalize following DeCarlo’s second close call of the evening. The senior’s free kick nearly resulted in a Whippet own goal mere minutes after O’Loughlin’s heroics. But the ball eluded the net, and West, a week on from a 1-0 regular-season loss to the Panthers, retained the lead.

“I knew they were going to keep coming,” said O’Loughlin. “They were still coming (into the last minutes). Everyone worked hard to the end. It was a team win.”

The Whippets played as good a road game as one could have asked for. They scored early then went about staying disciplined in defense. That the hosts’ best chance came from well outside the 18-yard-box is credit to a stout West backline.

Gina Peraino opened the scoring with 28 minutes remaining in the first half. She pounced on a Sydney Amparo cross that an otherwise stellar Panthers’ defensive group failed to clear and fired the ball past Katie Fisher.

The goal was indicative of an opening 40 minutes that saw the Whippets outshoot Haven, 4-1. On defense, the visitors bottled up Central League Most Valuable Player Lizzie King, who sat out last week’s meeting, to thwart the Panthers’ attack.

“She’s a dangerous player,” said West coach Wes Davis. “We tried to pass her off early, but had to make a switch.”

Downingtown West's Gina Peraino controls a pass Thursday. Peraino scored in the first half to spell the difference in the Whippets' 1-0 win over Strath Haven in the District One Class AAA Tournament. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Downingtown West’s Gina Peraino controls a pass Thursday. Peraino scored in the first half to spell the difference in the Whippets’ 1-0 win over Strath Haven in the District One Class AAA Tournament. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

It took all of 15 minutes and one King chance, a turnaround shot that barely cleared the crossbar, for Davis to shift his defense. King soon had a constant mark not to mention double-teams whenever she collected the ball.

“We always had a girl tight on her,” said O’Loughlin. Megan Lundmark did the honors for much of the evening with help from Grim. King struggled to adjust to the extra attention.

“We thought about moving her outside,” Miraglia said. “We tried to tell her keep moving, keep passing it off. We wanted her in space.”

With King neutralized, Haven (13-4-2) continued to press into the second half in hopes of finding the tying goal. VanDuyne and DeCarlo jumped into the offense with success, but the final product never came.

“We have faith in our midfield to help us and we have girls who can run,” said VanDuyne. “We don’t have a problem pushing them up.

“Honestly, I thought we played our hearts out. We just got unlucky.”

O’Loughlin played a key role in that misfortune. The Whippets will head to second-seeded Pennsbury Saturday.

“Morgan’s been standing strong all year,” said Davis. “It’s not the first time she’s done it. I hope it’s not the last.”

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