by Tom Utescher

To score Mount St. Joseph’s first goal last Tuesday, sophomore Olivia Gannon (center) aimed the ball between the feet of Villa Maria goalkeeper Kerry Schubert as defender Maddie McTigue (left) watched. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

In their final Athletic Association of Catholic Academies outing of 2010, the Mount St. Joseph Magic suffered an overtime loss at Villa Maria in the semifinals of the league tournament.

In their first meeting of 2011, the Magic and the Hurricanes were tied once more at the end of regulation play, but this time it was host Mount St. Joe that prevailed in an OT session, 8-7.

Ahead 6-2 a few minutes into the second half of last Tuesday’s tilt, the Mount appeared to be cruising to victory, but things are seldom that simple when these two schools mix it up in just about any sport you can name. Villa pulled back into a 7-7 tie in the final minute of the period, and 68 seconds into overtime sophomore Emilee Ehret passed the ball down low to junior Laura Pacheco, who popped in the game-winner from close range.

“We wanted this win; it was one of our goals at the beginning of the year,” said Pacheco, who played sweeper for the MSJ field hockey team that defeated the higher-seeded Villa team in the AACA finals last fall and then went on to the state semifinals.

Sophomore Olivia Gannon scored four goals for Mount St. Joe, which improved to 10-3 overall and 8-1 in the AACA. The Mount’s lone league loss was an 8-7 setback at Merion Mercy at the beginning of April. Villa, which had already swept its season series with Merion, left the Mount 6-1 in the AACA and 9-2 overall. Nine saves apiece were recorded for the two goalies, Mount sophomore Alex Lista and Villa senior Kerry Schubert.

Mount St. Joe coach Jenna Washabaugh attended Germantown Academy (as did Villa mentor Jess Chadwin), and observed, “Being a first-year coach here, I hadn’t been a part of this big rivalry, but I could sense their excitement. I got out on the field yesterday in practice and played with them to help them prepare. You could tell by how hard they came out at the beginning of the game how important it was to them.”

Villa’s first shot of the game was foiled, but on an errant clearing pass by the Mount the ball ended up on the ground and then back in a visitor’s stick. Sam Ostoich went right back in at the MSJ cage to put the Hurricanes on the board three minutes into the match.

The Magic would never trail again, seizing the following draw and then using a feed from junior Burke Brabson to set up the first of Gannon’s goals. Wells moved the Magic ahead by converting off a free position, but Villa’s Erin Kelly tied the game, 2-2, with 15:13 to go in the opening period.

With 6:14 on the clock, Wells came from behind the cage on the left to give the Magic the lead once more, and two minutes later Gannon cut across the arc from left to right and delivered an underhand shot that made it 4-2.

Villa attacked as time wound down in the first half, but a shot by Catherine Bendinelli struck the right post of the Mount cage and the Magic went back up the field. Playing for the last shot of the half, Mount St. Joe had sophomore defender Dominique Nyzio score off an assist from Wells with five seconds remaining, and the Magic were up 5-2 at the interlude.

The Mounties had won most of the center draws and added to their time of possession by recovering most of the rebounds of their own shots.

“Stevie Wells has been awesome all year getting possession off the draw,” Washabaugh pointed out. “Today I was also impressed by the way we were backing each other up and maintaining possession. There was a lot of hard work from Emilee Ehret on that; on just one possession she got the ball back for us three or four times.”

Back on the defensive end, Shannon Zoldy gives the Magic four years of varsity experience, and Lista, the dynamic sophomore goaltender, has stepped up to help direct the players in front of her.

“Our entire defense played awesome today,” Washabaugh said, “and Alex was doing a great job leading them. She’s one of the fastest players on our team, and when we need her to, she can fire out of the crease and beat opposing attack players to ground balls.”

Barely 90 seconds into the trailing half, Gannon side-armed a free position shot for a 6-2 MSJ lead, but the Mounties would not be able to simply coast to victory.

“When you play a good team, there’s going to be an ebb-and-flow,” Washabaugh cautioned. “You have to expect them to come back, and then you just have to respond.”

Although not one of Villa’s most heralded players, Jenna Mertz deposited consecutive goals for the Hurricanes, bringing them back within two points of the leaders. Off of a free position shot with seven minutes remaining, MSJ’s Gannon launched a hard bounce shot that glanced off Villa’s Schubert and went into the net for a 7-4 count.

On an offensive transition for Villa, it was two-on-two near the top of the arc and the ‘Canes’ Mertz had the ball. Both MSJ defenders went for a double team, leaving Kelly open closer to the goal. Mertz got her the pass and the visitors cut it to 7-5 with 5:21 to go.

“We had a couple of miscommunications on defense in the second half, a little lapse in concentration,” Washabaugh admitted. “We stopped playing the kind of lacrosse that gave us that four-goal lead.”

Villa still needed some last-second heroics, and got them. Mertz continued to come up huge for the Hurricanes, scoring with 2:08 on the clock and then leveling the count at 7-7 with 57 seconds left. In the last gasps of regulation play, VMA’s Schubert saved an shot by Ehret and at the other end Lista stopped a ball from Mertz, sending the contest into a sudden victory overtime.

In the brief huddle before the additional period began, Washabaugh related, “I didn’t want them to concentrate on much else besides getting the ball off the draw. It would be counterproductive to start thinking too many steps ahead.”

The Magic initially got the draw, turned the ball over, then got it back again after a few bobbles by both teams. Ehret approached the top of the arc with the ball while Pacheco set up out in the flat to the left of the cage.

“It was spontaneous,” Pacheco recalled. “I saw I was open and I cut into the center, and Emilee saw me. It was just kind of like – catch the ball and shoot it. I don’t even know where it went in.”

“We have quite a few difficult games left on our schedule, but I think we’ll be ready,” Washabaugh noted. “The girls are proving to themselves that we can stay with these strong teams.”

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