Dependable senior defender Catherine McInerney brings the ball out of the back for Penn Charter. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

It was over too soon, but it seemed like it would never end. Penn Charter’s stay in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools field hockey tournament only lasted for one game, but the outcome of last Friday’s match at Shipley School wasn’t decided until the 21st minute of “sudden victory” overtime.

The first 30 minutes of the contest had ended with the visiting Quakers, the 10th seed in the tourney, holding a 1-0 lead thanks to senior Catherine McInerney. Seventh-seeded Shipley scored twice early in the second half, then PC junior Elisabeth Ross evened it up at 2-2 with one minute remaining in regulation play.

Penn Charter, which still has this weekend’s PC-GA Day game left on the agenda, departed Bryn Mawr with an overall record of 3-12 while remaining 2-9 within the Inter-Ac League (both wins came against Baldwin School).

It was the second double-overtime game of the week for the Shipley Gators, who on Tuesday had defeated Moorestown Friends, 2-1, to win the 2017 Friends Schools League championship. Friday’s victory earned the Gators a PAIS meeting with second-seeded Episcopal Academy, which had enjoyed a first round bye along with five other schools, including Germantown Academy and Springside Chestnut Hill.

Penn Charter will graduate senior captains McInerney, Lilly Carpenter and Ava Nicolucci, but the team will return a lot of younger players who saw a good deal of varsity time. Three freshmen were regular starters, including goalkeeper Zora Johnson.

No Quakers players, old or young, were visible as head coach Steve Wagner sat alone on the visitors’ bench before last Friday’s game. The team bus eventually arrived less than 15 minutes before the original game time, but one of the officials was late getting there, as well.

Very quickly, Shipley advanced and earned the first penalty corner of the game. The Gators couldn’t get a shot off, and Charter was soon on the attack. On consecutive corners of their own, the Quakers first had a shot by Ross blocked by a back, and on the second play they got the ball in close to the goal line, but not across it.

With 21:48 remaining in the first half, Charter got on the board thanks to a hard drive by McInerney from near the top of the circle. The ball caromed off the keeper and into the cage on the left side.

Play went back and forth after that, and although the Gators spent a bit more time on offense than their guests, PC was still up 1-0 at the break.

Penn Charter goalie Zora Johnson kicks the ball away from the Quakers’ cage. In the foreground is fellow freshman Kaylee Dyer. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

That lead didn’t hold up for long once play resumed. From a few feet outside the right post, Carolina Riley tied the match for the home team just 77 seconds into the new period. Following a Charter time-out with the clock down at 20:59, Quakers freshman Kaylee Dyer had a shot saved by Shipley keeper Taylor Wells with a leg pad.

The Gators came back up on offense, and in the aftermath of a corner play, Chloe Sobel scored on a drag shot from the right of the goal after receiving the ball from Riley. Shipley had gone ahead with 17:34 remaining in regulation play.

PC earned a corner at the other end just a minute later, but several swings near the goalmouth didn’t connect solidly with the ball, and it was cleared out of the circle. More Charter corners followed, but the hosts continued to lead as the clock dropped below 10 minutes, and then five.

The Gators called time-out with 2:41 to go, but any plans they made to protect their lead went awry. PC’s Ross dribbled the ball into the circle high on the right and let fly, and the ball deflected into the cage off of Shipley. The Charter junior had tied things up with one minute remaining, and soon the contest proceeded into a 15-minute overtime.

For this seven-on-seven session, PC started out with Johnson, Carpenter, McInerney, Ross, junior Avery Myers, Dyer and her freshman classmate, Lilly Avrigian. Nicolucci subbed in a little later and Coach Wagner continued to rotate his players to try give them at least a short breather.

After PC rushes by Myers and Ross, a Shipley advance was halted by McInerney. Ross sent a shot wide to the left a second time, but Charter stayed in or around the circle. Wells, the Gators’ keeper, kicked the ball out of the loop and then made a save as the Quakers brought it back in and shot. Myers launched a reverse backhand that she chipped up high of the cage with just over three minutes left in the first 15.

Shipley made one foray across midfield, then McInerney made a long run up the middle with the ball but had her progress stopped by Wells. However, the keeper was injured on the play with 19 seconds remaining, and she retired to the bench with 16 saves as Casey Gross took over. The Gators were awarded a corner with no time left on the clock, but after some tense moments on the doorstep of the goal, PC cleared the ball out to end the play.

Two minutes into a second overtime stint, the new Shipley goalie made her only save, getting a leg pad on a shot by Myers. The home team took the play in the other direction, and with 9:32 left in the second extra session, Riley scored the winning goal off an assist from Sydney Nagorski.

The Quakers’ tenure in the tournament was over, but they still could look forward to ending their season in the midst of the PC-GA Day festivities the following weekend.

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