ROYERSFORD >> Neshaminy and Central Bucks East saved their best for last.
After nearly 70 relatively compelling minutes of soccer, No. 5 Neshaminy held a one-goal lead over No. 14 CB East in the District 1-4A girls’ soccer championship match. What happened over the final 10:22 of play elicited a lot of different descriptions from the participants involved in it, all of them somehow accurate.
A thrilling, frantic and chaotic finish saw Neshaminy outlast East 3-2 on Saturday at Spring-Ford to continue its unbeaten season with its first District 1 title since 2016.
“Oh my gosh, 100 percent one of the most intense games ever,” Neshaminy forward Kylie Maxwell said. “It was insane.”
Maxwell built on what’s been a brilliant postseason so far, scoring her team’s first goal and providing the clinical ball across the front of goal that led to the others. The sophomore, who blends speed, height and skill in a complete package, was a constant thorn in the side of CB East’s defense and ended the district tournament with seven goals and three assists in five games.
Neshaminy (21-0-2) was slightly more potent offensively in the first half, but a resolute effort by CB East’s (16-7-0) defensive unit that included a couple of blocked shots and clears from center back Sophie Schorn and two great saves by keeper Aralynn Patterson kept it clean at the break.
East senior Gwyn Krystkiewicz, who has been in form this postseason as well, noted it took some time for her side to settle into the match.
“It took us a little too long to realize we had to really, really work hard to get the goals and it hit us once we went down 2-0 we had to step on the gas and get going,” Krystkiewicz. “We did, it’s just unfortunate they turned it right back around. I give a lot of credit to their front line, they work hard but our back line stuck with them the whole game.”
Throughout the postseason, Neshaminy’s had a few players step up in the wake of injuries. That ability to plug-and-play would be heavily tested Saturday after standout senior Mercedez Paino knocked heads with an East player contesting a header with 6:38 left in the first half. Paino, who pulls the strings in the midfield, exited the game and did no re-enter but Madisyn Conrad was able to fill in.
Neshaminy also has Maxwell and that’s increasingly becoming a pretty sound foundation to start laying hopes and expectations on.
First-year Neshaminy coach Josh Van Reed said Maxwell has had a big target on her this season but lauded the sophomore for how she’s evolved her game in the face of increased defensive attention.
“To have a weapon like that on your team with that pace who can score goals on her own, who can score goals off of assists, it’s special,” Van Reed said. “To add to her game, it’s that playing off the ball and creating goals for other people and she’s done that this year, a lot. She has two assists today, has a goal today, having someone like that on your team who can produce in big moments and the team can rely on, we’re not out of this because we have someone like Kylie.”
Maxwell, who starts every game at forward with her twin sister Taylor playing on the backline, showed the whole package on the game’s opening goal. The forward was able to turn on the ball, playing a big touch into space and running it down ahead of the pursuing back before taking another touch and ripping a laser to the far post with 31:49 left in the game.
“I’m looking for creative ways to get around them and to keep doing different things, different moves and playing how I know how to play,” Maxwell said. “I’m just trying to get behind them any time I can.”
Even with Paino sidelined, the Neshaminy midfield was able to have a positive impact on the game. Senior co-captain Carly Fox put in her usual high rate of work while sophomore Abby Collins was outstanding in the holding role while trying to keep East’s standout senior Elliot Forney in check.
Collins, who finished the match with a few new turf burns from the numerous slide tackles she put in trying to get the ball off the foot of Forney, plays a taxing position that doesn’t lend to a lot of highlights. While she may not get a ton of credit externally, the sophomore knows her value.
“I don’t need anyone else, I have my team,” Collins said. “It means a lot they know I’m there and they trust that I know what I’m doing. Whenever Elliot went back, I knew I was doing something good. If she turns, it’s dangerous so any time I made her go back, it helped.”
Fox has been a varsity player since her freshman year at Neshaminy and the senior – who shares captain duties with Paino and defender Alexis Ocasio – was ecstatic to see four years of hard work pay off with a district title, even if there was some extra stress at the end of it.
“My heart dropped when they scored, but I knew there was still time,” Fox said. “There wasn’t a lot of time, but I knew we had it. We went straight to the net.”
Fox unwittingly started the furious finish when she won a ball just outside the Patriots’ 18-yard box and played it out to Maxwell wide on the right. Maxwell raced in toward goal and laced a crossing ball on the ground in front of net where freshman Bri Garyah met in on a trailing run and slammed home for a 2-0 lead with 10:22 left.
Before the buzz in the stands could subside, East was down the other end knocking on the door. Senior Cam Williams, who was under the weather but constantly pestered Neshaminy’s backs when she was in, fired a shot that was saved but not covered, allowing Krystkiewicz to knock in the rebound with 10:06 to play.
Each side had a chance turned away in the interim before the game entered the final minute with East still chasing an equalizer. Midfielder Mikayla Gray flicked a header into the path of Krystkiewicz, who didn’t have much time to make a decision but the senior still made the right choice by hitting a first-touch shot for the equalizer.
Off the tap, it was Neshaminy’s turn to go right down and respond. Maxwell again got wide and again hit a ball across the box that senior Aydan Tierney ran onto and fired toward net. An East defender made a valiant effort to try and block the shot but instead the ball clipped their leg and went in, putting Neshaminy up 3-2 with 46.4 seconds left.
“I wanted to get the ball all the way through, I wanted to be up the field,” Maxwell said. “I hit it across and Aidyn Tierney hit it right in, it was beautiful. I was a little concerned because there was only a minute left, but once that ball got all the way through and I was able to sprint to the ball, I knew we were going to get that in and once the ball got into the six, I knew we were going to win.”
For East, it was like the sudden drop that comes after the climb to the very top of the hill on a roller coaster.
“It honestly didn’t feel real,” Krystkiewicz said. “I just thought ‘what is going on?’ I’ve never been in a game like that.”
Both teams now move on to the state tournament. Neshaminy will host District 3 third-place finisher Penn Manor in Tuesday’s first round at Council Rock North. Even with an SOL Patriot title, a District 1 title and an unbeaten record, Neshaminy still wants more.
“The last three games were really tough but we played hard and I think that will help us on Tuesday,” Fox said. “We’re going to keep up this high, intense level and bring it to next week.”
Krystkiewicz was confident her team would be able to get itself back together over the weekend and be ready to go on Tuesday, adding the Patriots have a lot left in their tank. East will face District 3 runner-up Central Dauphin on Tuesday.
“We’re going to use this feeling and how upset we all are as motivation that we never want this to happen again,” Krystkiewicz said. “If we lose again, our season is over so we need to use this as motivation to keep going and win it all.”
NESHAMINY 3, CENTRAL BUCKS EAST 2
NESHAMINY 0 3 – 3
CENTRAL BUCKS EAST 0 2 – 2
Goals: N – Kylie Maxwell, Bri Garyah (Maxwell), Aidyn Tierney (Maxwell); CBE – Gwyn Krystkiewicz (Cam Williams), Krystkiewicz (Mikayla Gray).
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