Cougars scratch out PIAA berth

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Austin Hert­zog ahert­zog@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @AustinHert­zog on Twit­ter

Emma Steiger­wald and Tay­lor Platt couldn’t look at each other.

“Don’t look at me!” Platt barked at her best friend and Down­ing­town East girls soc­cer team­mate.

But it cer­tainly wasn’t anger be­tween the Cougars ju­niors. They just couldn’t help but crack each other up while at­tempt­ing to talk about the big­gest win over their scholas­tic soc­cer ca­reers.

It was hard not to be giddy after Down­ing­town East scored two goals in the first 15 min­utes and later with­stood SpringFord’s best ef­forts to snatch a 2-0 vic­tory in the Dis­trict 1-AAAA fifth-place game to send the Cougars to the PIAA Cham­pi­onships for the first time since 2013.

East is bound for states after early ex­its from dis­tricts the past two years, all while ne­go­ti­at­ing the rugged road of qual­i­fy­ing through play­backs.

“It’s awe­some tak­ing it this far after two years of not get­ting past the first round,” Platt said.

“We do re­ally good un­der pres­sure dur­ing games like this. It’s re­ally ex­cit­ing for all of us,” Steiger­wald said.

There was def­i­nitely pres­sure, espe­cially against a Spring-Ford team that beat Down­ing­town East 5-1 on Oct. 1. But the pres­sure was al­le­vi­ated by Steiger­walt on a classy one-touch re­di­rect­ion of Olivia Law­ton’s low cross in the 9th minute. Five min­utes later Law­ton played the fin­isher with a ris­ing shot from the right side, East scor­ing more on Spring-Ford in the first 15 min­utes than they could muster through all 80 the first time around.

A dream start you could say.

“Yeah! Oh, my gosh, yeah,” Steiger­wald said. “The first 15 min­utes we came out there and pushed each other and got two goals re­ally fast. It was awe­some.”

“We wanted to do ev­ery­thing we could to get the lead and wanted to do that early and we were press­ing to do that,” East coach Craig Reed said. “To have Emma, who has been fan­tas­tic all year, score and then Olivia Law­ton comes through with that sec­ond goal. Those are two spe­cial play­ers with two bril­liant goals.”

Pi­o­neer Ath­letic Con­fer­ence cham­pion SpringFord was left try­ing to re­cover in a do-or-done game that went its way in 2013 and 2014 when it reached the PIAA fi­nal and semi­fi­nal, re­spec­tively.

The Rams out-shot the in­creas­ingly de­fen­sive Cougars as the game pro­gressed, 5-3 in shots on goal and 11-10 in goal at­tempts (shots on and off frame). Their best chances came right after the Cougars’ burst on a KK O’Don­nell cross for Kelly Franz, but the tim­ing was slightly off, a re­cur­ring theme through­out the game’s fi­nal 65 min­utes for S-F.

Their other best chance was when fresh­man Elle Ker­sh­ner got her­self to the doorstep of the goal with East goal­keeper Court­ney Dun­lop on the deck. But Dun­lop lunged to grab the ball from Ker­sh­ner’s feet be­fore she could shoot or pass.

The Cougars’ at­tack – Steiger­wald pair­ing up top with Re­bekah March plus the mid­field sup­port of Law­ton, Jess Keeler, Brenna War­ren and Angela Car­cella – got the plau­dits in the first half, it’s 4-4-2 for­ma­tion ap­ply­ing pres­sure on the Rams’ back three of Libby Andrews, Missy Moore and Molly McHarg. The sec­ond half’s went to Dun­lop (five saves), Platt and fel­low de­fend­ers Ni­amh Sweeney, Emily Wurzel and Mad­die Eck­els, which de­nied Spring-Ford a fourth­straight berth in the state tour­na­ment.

“We knew they would come out and be mo­ti­vated to come after us,” Platt said. “We had to hold on and keep ev­ery­thing out.”

With play­ers the level of Steiger­walt and Platt – they are fel­low cap­tains with War­ren – keep­ing things fun, there’s plenty of rea­son for smiles around Down­ing­town East.

“They can keep the mood light and I think that’s how it should be,” Reed said. “It’s al­ways com­pet­i­tive and we’re fo­cused when we need to be fo­cused but we want it to al­ways be fun. When they’re play­ing re­laxed some­times we can put to­gether a game like that (Satur­day’s per­for­mance).”

Down­ing­town East, as Dis­trict 1’s No. 5 seed, will face Dis­trict 3 cham­pion Cum­ber­land Val­ley in Tues­day’s PIAA first round.

AUSTIN HERT­ZOG — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Down­ing­town East’s Emma Steiger­wald, cen­ter, tries to split Spring-Ford’s Gabby Kane (20) and Laura Fazz­ini dur­ing Satur­day’s Dis­trict 1 Class AAAA fifth-place game.

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