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Pennridge gets playoff warm-up with win over CB West

EAST ROCKHILL >> The District 1 playoffs are less than a week away but it was easy to think they had started early at Helman Field on Tuesday night.

For the second time this season, Pennridge and Central Bucks West played an entertaining match full of scoring chances and not lacking energy with plenty on the line. Unlike the first meeting, this one would have a different winner and leave one team left to sit and wait.

Thanks to a well taken header by freshman Anna Croyle, the host Rams avenged their lone loss this fall as they topped CB West 1-0 to wrap up the regular season.

“The first game with them, we didn’t have as much energy as we should have had so that got us fired up,” Croyle said. “Knowing this could potentially give us two home games, we want to go far in the playoffs and we wanted to do it now.”

Pennridge (10-1-0, 9-1-0 SOL Colonial) had already wrapped up a conference title last week but entered in the No. 5 spot in the District 1-4A rankings. The Rams, the defending District 1 champion, lost to the Bucks 2-1 on Oct. 15 and felt they had left quite a few chances on the field that night.

West, which started the day sitting No. 13 in the 4A rankings, needed a win to solidify their postseason standing. Despite a handful of quality chances and a spirited effort, the Bucks weren’t able to find the net and had slipped to No. 15 in the rankings by the end of the night.

The Rams, who moved up to No. 3, felt like Tuesday was less a regular season finale and more a playoff warm-up.

“We’re super-excited for the playoffs, we’ve worked so hard to get here and now we’re focused on playing Monday,” junior forward Leah Malone said. “We knew we were still in playoffs no matter what, but any opportunity we get to better our chances, we have to take that. We knew it would be a hard game and all credit to West, they’re such a good team.”

Malone agreed that the Rams again left too many chances on the field Tuesday night, but in the end, they had one more goal that West and that’s what mattered. With classmate Emily Kriney out injured, Malone is the most experienced forward left for a Pennridge team that started four freshmen against the Bucks.

That’s another reason Tuesday’s matchup came at just the right time for the Rams. While the SOL Colonial is one of the toughest divisions in the state, there’s still another level when the games are one-and-done like they will be starting Monday.

With the Bucks, led by a determined senior class eager to build off last year’s district run, playing for their future, Tuesday had the feel of a playoff contest.

“We have great upperclassmen on our team who make it easy to step on the field and they encourage us,” Croyle said. “The freshmen, we’re all in the same boat but it’s helpful when your teammates support you.”

One of those freshman, striker Tori Angelo, won the corner kick that would lead to the winning goal. Angelo went all-out, sprinting after the ball and pouncing on a West backpass that forced a recovering defender to kick the ball out over the endline.

Riley Hepler played an out-swinging service that found Croyle at the back of a mob of players in the box. The freshman center back jumped up and crushed a header that looped into the back corner of the net with 11:28 left in the opening half.

“It helps that come from the backside, so they don’t always see me coming,” Croyle said. “Lindsey (DeHaven) is such a big presence in the box, so they’re focused on guarding her and it leaves me open. It was a great ball from Riley and I was just in the right spot. It was really all her, I was just there.”

The second half was a tale of near-misses for the Rams. Pennridge had a shot hit the crossbar, had two others hit the post and were denied a couple chances by outstanding saves from Bucks keeper Jenna Abaza. A senior, Abaza made seven stops in goal including a superb sprawling denial of Hepler right at the mouth of goal in the second half.

Malone said the Rams always try to look at a game, see what they did well but also what they can learn from it. Tuesday, the junior pointed to being more clinical in front of goal.

The chances are coming from the right places, the Rams attackers trust each other and they look to move the ball but it’s not easy to score. The team hasn’t had one dominant scorer either, but the coaches have stressed to players they can be more selfish if the opportunity is there for them.

“You have to put away a game like that early and try to make it easier on yourself,” Malone said. “Especially with playoffs coming, those games are the hardest to win. Overall, I think we did a great job and again played as a team. We’re still working on that and it takes more time with less games, but we still have to get where we want to be.”

West’s backs – Bella Centenera, Courtney Moylan, Keely McGlone and Kate Weyer – were strong in front of Abaza but the Bucks’ attack didn’t click like it had the first time the teams met. Croyle said the Rams were more aware of the Bucks’ long balls defensively and tried to keep West from getting set pieces in dangerous areas.

The Bucks will have to wait through Wednesday’s results to see if they made the 16-team field which seems a cruel fate for a team that went 6-3-1 in a difficult division.

Pennridge knows its fate but not its first opponent. For now, they’ll just be focused on themselves and trying to make their lessons from Tuesday night’s result pay off next week.

“It was like a playoff game, it’s always high emotions playing them and they had something to lose so we knew they were going to put everything out on the field,” Malone said. “We had to work 10 times harder because of that. Playing a game like this is super important and it will benefit us because it was so close and that’s how most playoff games are.”

PENNRIDGE 1, CENTRAL BUCKS WEST 0
CENTRAL BUCKS WEST 0 0 – 0
PENNRIDGE 1 0 – 1
Goals; P – Anna Croyle (Riley Hepler).

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