Pen­ncrest keeper saves day in draw

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @sports­doc­tormd on Twitter

MID­DLE­TOWN >> With a re­signed nod, Mi­randa Crop­per con­curs on the de­scrip­tion of the first goal she sur­ren­dered Tues­day.

“Yeah, it’s re­gret­table,” the Pen­ncrest goal­keeper al­lowed.

But after Pen­ncrest’s pun­ish­ing 2-2 draw with Con­estoga, there was no time for frowns from Crop­per, given her star­ring role in the Li­ons’ en­sur­ing a share of the points.

Crop­per made nine saves, none big­ger than a point-blank de­nial of Con­estoga’s Nia Scott in the fi­nal minute of the first over­time.

But that’s get­ting ahead of our­selves on the goal­keep­ing roller coaster. The ride started in­aus­pi­ciously, with a back pass played to Crop­per 11 min­utes in. She booted it up­field as for­ward Caitlin Dono­van closed her down, and the ball bounded off Dono­van, looped over a help­less Crop­per and into the net against the run of play.

“I know I just have to for­get about it,” Crop­per said. “That’s in the past. I can’t change it. I have to make

sure I save the next cou­ple of shots.”

“I think for the team, we just have to keep our heads up,” cap­tain Gia Mar­tyn said. “The cap­tains, the se­niors have to keep ev­ery­body up and keep them in a pos­i­tive mood be­cause it was such an early goal, the game wasn’t over yet. We had a bunch of time to get one back, and we did.”

Crop­per re­bounded, with a cou­ple of hic­cups along the way. She kneed away a dip­ping drive from Hannah Mor­gan in the first half, scram­bling to cover the ric­o­chet. She bob­bled a Dono­van side-vol­ley in the sec­ond half but re­cov­ered. And in the sec­ond OT, she broke off her line, stopped, slipped, then cor­ralled a through ball from Rachel DiRico aimed at the streak­ing Dono­van.

Along the way, Crop­per also dove in vain at a curl­ing free kick by Stoga’s Cal­ista Court­ney that twohopped into the side net­ting, knot­ting the score at 2 in the 63rd minute.

But with the game on Scott’s right foot, Crop­per came through, snar­ing a shot head-high just off her left shoul­der.

“I just saw the ball get past her, and no one was on her,” Crop­per said. “So I just set my feet and I knew she was com­ing. I kept my eye on the ball, and as she shot it, I watched the ball go into my hands.”

Odd as it seems to high­light a goalie who con­ceded twice be­hind a team that had al­lowed just four com­bined all sea­son, the de­fen­sive ef­fort was in­te­gral to Pen­ncrest’s mode of at­tack. Like few op­po­nents Con­estoga (9-0-4, 7-0-2 Cen­tral) has faced, the Li­ons didn’t aban­don their game plan. They pa­tiently strung to­gether passes, play­ing through the mid­dle of the pitch and break­ing down Con­estoga the way it has other teams, in­stead of re­sort­ing to hope­ful, long-ball tac­tics.

“Since we have so many great play­ers in a lot of dif­fer­ent places, bang­ing the ball (around) won’t help them at all,” Mar­tyn said. “Pass­ing to feet, get­ting it for­ward is just a great idea for us since we have so many good play­ers.”

Mar­tyn epit­o­mized that poise. She scored the first goal from the spot two min­utes be­fore half when Cor­ryn Gam­ber was felled in the box un­der light con­tact from DiRico. Soft call or not, Mar­tyn slot­ted the penalty low to Colleen Bald­win’s left where the keeper, guess­ing cor­rectly, was pow­er­less to re­pel it.

In the 61st minute, Mar­tyn did the heavy lift­ing to set up Tara Hig­gins’s goal, slalom­ing through tack­les on a 30-yard run up the cen­ter of Con­estoga’s de­fense. The ball found its way to Hig­gins in the right chan­nel, in a sim­i­lar area as Scott’s stonewalled ef­fort, to lash a shot into the roof of the net.

Pen­ncrest’s ret­i­cence to aban­don its plan was a boon to the back­line, which held firm against an un­der­manned but dan­ger­ous Con­estoga side. The start­ing back four con­sists

of two sopho­mores (Carly Dun­ford and Sarah Hughes) and two fresh­men (Kenna Kaut and Julia Mul­laney). But as they have all year, they hardly put a foot wrong.

“I think we all work re­ally well to­gether,” Dun­ford said. “We have a pres­sure­cover sys­tem, so I can count on them to back me up.”

Con­estoga lev­eled the score via Court­ney, who hoped to add to Crop­per’s topsy-turvy day in one way, but ended up suc­ceed­ing in an­other.

“When I saw it was close to goal, I thought that it could be in my range,” the de­fender said. “We were hear­ing that if I did hit the goalie, she might have (let up) a re­bound, so it would be bet­ter if I got it closer to goal. And it some­how just got it.”

The draw tor­pe­does the slim chance Pen­ncrest (91-3, 5-1-3) had har­bored of reen­ter­ing the Cen­tral ti­tle hunt, while drop­ping Con­estoga be­hind Strath Haven, with which it drew. But for the Class 3A Li­ons to hold their own against the lead­ers in the lat­est Dis­trict 1 4A rank­ings is a sig­nif­i­cant moral vic­tory.

“We played out hearts out,” Mar­tyn said, “and we came out with the tie, which is not the worst thing here.”

ANNE NEB­O­RAK — DIG­I­TAL FIRST MEDIA

Con­estoga goalie Colleen Bald­win and Dana Cic­chitti fight to keep the ball away from the net Tues­day af­ter­noon.

ANNE NEB­O­RAK — DIG­I­TAL FIRST MEDIA

Pen­ncrest’s Cor­ryn Gam­ber tries to get the ball away from Con­estoga’s Caitlin Dono­van Tues­day.

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