Lady Mounts’ journey ends in State semi-finals

By , on November 14, 2018
Ephrata junior striker Abigail Wiest (right) battles through the physical play of Pennridge’s Ashley Groeber while trying to create a scoring opportunity for the Lady Mounts in Tuesday’s State playoff game.  Photos by Missi Mortimer

Ephrata junior striker Abigail Wiest (right) battles through the physical play of Pennridge’s Ashley Groeber while trying to create a scoring opportunity for the Lady Mounts in Tuesday’s State playoff game.
Photos by Missi Mortimer

Among the strengths that Ephrata’s Jocelyn Umana brings to the soccer field is her ability to read the play.

The junior goalkeeper was certainly doing plenty of that on Tuesday night.

Facing a skilled, physical Pennridge team, the Lady Mounts found themselves in their own defensive half of the field for large stretches of time.

And if not for Umana, who stepped up with 10 saves, the score could have become lopsided.

“(Jocelyn)’s been fantastic,” Ephrata coach Wes Deininger said. “She’s just gotten stronger and stronger as the year’s gone on.”

In the end, however, the District One third-place Lady Rams connected late in the first half on a goal by Lauren McIntyre and went on to defeat Ephrata 1-0 in the PIAA State 4A playoff semi-finals at West Chester East High School.

While Pennridge (21-3-1) advanced to Saturday’s State championship game against the Peters Twp.-Souderton winner, the Ephrata girls, who finished third in District Three, wrapped up their impressive campaign with a 21-4-1 record.

“Very successful,” Deininger said of his team’s season. “We won 21 games. Most teams don’t get an opportunity to play that many games, let alone win that many. You’re only happy if you win the last game of the season and that’s one team in the State. So, of course, we’re not satisfied, but it was a fantastic year.”

The Lady Mounts were back in the State semi-finals for the first time since 2001, when they suffered a loss to eventual PIAA champ Council Rock, and they were looking to punch their ticket to Hersheypark Stadium after beating District One champ Conestoga and Penncrest in the opening two rounds.

But it was Pennridge who seized early control, picking up a corner kick in the opening minute of the match and then threatening with a few crossing passes in front of the goal.

The first golden opportunity came from Ephrata, however, as junior striker Reagan McCarty got behind the Lady Rams’ defense and blasted a shot which was saved by Pennridge keeper Mary Kate Levush with 31:42 left in the half.

“You never know, it’s hard to say (if scoring there would have changed the tone of the game), but obviously it would have given us momentum and a lot of confidence,” Deininger said. “But their goalie came off her line and made a quality play.”

Umana made quality plays of her own, making stops against Chance Hendricks, Ashley Groeber and Abby Groff, as the Lady Rams played physical on the ball and dominated the time of possession.

Ephrata center backs Kristen Homan and Brooke Ludwig, though, did solid to keep Pennridge away from the front of the net.

“They’ve been playing great all year,” Deininger said. “They’re rock solid, they win the ball out of the air, they win physical challenges, and that was by far the most physical team we’ve seen all year.”

Although Pennridge had a 6-1 edge in shots in the first half — and a 12-1 advantage for the game — many were from long-range.

“We had an idea that they were going to have the ball and they were going to be dangerous, but they were really only dangerous from distance and Jocelyn was coming through with the majority of what they had,” Deininger said. “We did a great job, except for one unfortunate mistake.”

What Ephrata’s coach was referencing happened with 1:11 left in the opening, when McIntyre got free in front of the net, received a pass from Groff off the wing, and buried a shot with her left foot into the right corner of the net for a 1-0 Pennridge lead.

But the Lady Mounts opened the second half looking to turn the tide, and senior midfielder Madison Root and junior striker Abigail Wiest made a push into the Lady Rams’ end of the field, but to no avail.

Then about seven minutes later, Root fired just high over the crossbar on a free kick.

Not long afterward, Pennridge threatened to make it a two-goal game when Groff found herself alone inside the box, only to be denied on a diving save by Umana with 27:24 remaining.

“(Jocelyn) had a couple good (saves),” Deininger said. “She’s quick side-to-side and she reads the play well. That’s the biggest thing. She always knows where she needs to be.”

As Ephrata tried to counter to get a tying goal, the play became especially physical at times, and the Lady Rams received three yellow cards in the second half.

Then with just over 17:00 left, Root won a battle for the ball on the right wing and went on attack, but her shot was just a little wide, hitting the outside of the net. Nearly six minutes later, the senior play-maker threatened again, and her blast deflected off a Pennridge defender, earning Ephrata a corner kick. Each team had two corners in the game.

Ultimately, however, the Lady Rams played keep-away with the ball in the final minutes and ran out the clock to clinch their one-goal victory.

The Lady Mounts will lose seniors Katherine Sola, Hannah Schrom, Root, Kalysta Rountree, and Ludwig to graduation, but with a strong corps of players returning, including junior striker Annie Slovak — who had six goals before suffering a season-ending injury — there is reason for excitement next year for Ephrata.

“We have lots of talent and obviously Annie will be coming back,” Deininger said. “But every year is so different. You can never say, ‘We have everyone back, we definitely should get to a State semi-final.’ You just never know. Things change every year. But of course, we should be a quality side again.”

***

Ephrata advanced to Tuesday’s semifinals after knocking off District One four seed Penncrest 1-0 Saturday in a wind-affected quarterfinal game played at Upper Perkiomen High School.

While the Lady Mounts may have scored the game’s lone goal in the second half, this game may have been won in the first half as Ephrata, going straight into a 15-mile an hour wind, kept the Lions off the scoreboard.

With the wind at its back for the final 40 minutes, it seemed like only a matter of time for the Lady Mounts to take command. And after a somewhat sluggish start to the second half, they did just that midway through the period.

From 20 yards out, senior Rosa Saenz launched a free kick toward the goal. Junior Carly Holochuck got a touch on it which was saved by Lions’ keeper Bryn McLaughlin (3 saves), but senior Maddie Root was on the doorstep to clean it up. Root knocked home the rebound with 19:06 to go, and Ephrata had the 1-0 lead.

It was her seventh goal in the post-season, and no doubt biggest to date.

“Like she’s done over the last couple months, Maddie is always there,” Ephrata Coach Wes Deininger said. “She’s always ready and she’s going to be the one to put it in.”

Root said, “I just tried to put a foot on it. Any body part you can get on it is good.”

With the stiff wind at their backs, Ephrata controlled play the rest of the way to notch the huge win and advance.

“Obviously we were hoping to get the wind in the first half but they got it,” Deininger said. “I mean honestly that took just so much energy out of us just to be able to sustain in the first half that I think it affected some of our play in the second. But, we got through that first half, created a chance or two and took advantage.”

In the first half, Penncrest was able to tilt the field and create some scoring chances, but for the most part, the Ephrata defense did a nice job not allowing the Lions to penetrate the box. When they did get opportunities, Umana (6 saves) was there to gobble them up.

Penncrest (11-8-4) directed four shots toward Umana in the first 40 minutes and forced three corners.

The Lions did push late in the half. First, a clearing attempt by Claire Schwartz volleyed dangerously toward her own goal. But Umana recognized the danger and made the tough save. Then in the 36th minute, Penncrest’s Katie Sparling fired a shot from 20 yards out that forced Umana to punch away. The ball dangled in front of the goal after the initial save, but Umana recovered and scooped it up.

“Jocelyn has been rock solid and is prepared for anything…she’s been amazing,” Deininger said when asked about the near own goal.

“Going into the game I was quite nervous because the wind was really strong,” Umana said. “Thankfully I don’t think they utilized the wind as much as they could until the last 15 minutes (of the first half). Those last 15 minutes they were taking the long shots that were coming in high, so I just made sure I didn’t come off my line too far like I usually do. I had to make sure I was on my line because that wind could really do something in the air that I wasn’t expecting. I’d just kind of hold my breath until it got in my hands.”

Penncrest out-shot Ephrata 5-4 for the game while each side forced three corners apiece.

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