BUCKTOWN >> The finish always gets the attention, but it’s the work behind it that really matters.
That line of thought applied two-fold for Fiona Sanders and No. 3 seed Owen J Roberts in Tuesday’s PAC semifinal against No. 2 Upper Perkiomen. The Wildcats finished the regular season strong, but only after a season’s worth of work got them there.
Sanders finished two set pieces for goals as OJR downed the Indians 2-1 to advance to Thursday’s PAC final, but only because her teammates put her in position to.
“We focus on being able to finish those set pieces but a lot of it also comes from being able to earn those set pieces,” Sanders said. “That’s what we’re mainly trying to focus on in practice, then allowing those of us who take the set pieces to be able to go on and practice them on our own.”
GIRLS SOCCER 17:41 1st half: Owen J Roberts 2, Upper Perk 0
Absolutely stellar goal for the Wildcats: Fiona Sanders with a crushing header to finish after Sabrina Marks heads it her way off Emerson Storti’s corner kick@OJRGS pic.twitter.com/1aMmG95fqS
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) October 17, 2023
Sanders and OJR ran their win streak to six and will now play for their fifth PAC title in the last seven years against top-seeded Spring-Ford, the Rams a 1-0 overtime winner against Perk Valley in the other semifinal. In the process, the Wildcats also snapped Upper Perk’s five-match streak and ousted the PAC defending champions.
Upper Perkiomen’s Sarah Straup and Owen J. Roberts defender Ashly White get tangled during their PAC semifinal on Oct. 17 at Owen J. Roberts. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)Upper Perkiomen’s Sarah Straup and Owen J. Roberts defender Ashly White get tangled during their PAC semifinal on Oct. 17 at Owen J. Roberts. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Upper Perkiomen’s Sarah Fisher (9) drives forward as Owen J. Roberts’ Abby Kalbach defends during their PAC semifinal on Oct. 17 at Owen J. Roberts. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Even before Sanders scored the first of her two goals on a well-struck free kick 13 minutes in, OJR seemed to have Upper Perk’s number.
“We got content inviting pressure,” UP coach Casey Lewis said. “They’re an intelligent team, they’re trained really well to get up the field and pressure together and we got out of sorts a little bit.
“They played really smart and really well pressing together and when we tried to relieve that pressure, we didn’t really have an answer for it.”
One sequence in the second half summed that up quite well. Upper Perk senior captain Sarah Fisher, who had the Indians’ lone goal, fought against OJR’s unrelenting pressure for nearly 20 seconds before losing the ball and needed a few seconds of her own just to catch her breath.
Despite the result, Fisher tried her best to will UP to a second straight PAC final. Aside from the goal, which saw the forward pursue a shot from Sarah Straup into the box for a rebound, she also scalded the crossbar on a rocket shot early in the second half.
It was just a matter of Sanders and OJR being a little sharper on their chances that sent OJR through.
“Every game we try to go right into us setting the tone and I think we had a lot of momentum going into this game,” Sanders, a junior midfielder, said. “There was a lot of doubt going into this season because we’d lost so many people that we wouldn’t be able to get this far, so every game we try to set a tone that we are more than what people are making of us.”
The free kick Sanders scored on with 27 minutes left in the opening half was good but the eventual game-winner that came 10 minutes later was better. OJR’s pressure again earned a set piece, this time a corner and the finish would be worth the work behind it.
Owen J. Roberts’ Audrey Fleck looks to advance the ball down the sideline against Upper Pekiomen during their PAC semifinal on Oct. 17 at Owen J. Roberts. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Senior Emerson Storti drove an out-swinging ball to the middle of the box where senior defender Sabrina Marks met it and headed the ball back to the near post.
That’s where Sanders came soaring in, crushing a header of her own for a terrific finish.
“We do take time to work on corners but that double-header, I know where my run goes and she knows where her run goes, so it worked out that we were in the right spots,” Sanders said. “Sabrina is an amazing header, so any ball she gets a header on is a dangerous one, I was just the one there to get it.”
OWEN J ROBERTS 2 0 – 2
UPPER PERKIOMEN 1 0 – 1
Goals: OJR – Fiona Sanders, Sanders (Sabrina Banks, Emerson Storti); UP – Sarah Fisher (Sarah Straup). Saves: OJR – Abby Smith 1, UP – Ava Long 4