Baldwin School’s Lauren Bracken works to keep Penn Charter high scorer Janae Stewart away from the ball. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In the middle of the second half of last Friday’s Inter-Ac soccer match at Baldwin School, Penn Charter appeared to be on its way to wrapping up the 2018 league championship with two games still to play.

Leading 2-1 at the half, PC added an insurance goal early in the second period, and was still leading 3-1 with 19 minutes left to play. With a victory, the Quakers would come away with a 9-0-1 record in the league that would give them 28 points (three for each win, one for each tie) in the Inter-Ac standings. Second-place Germantown Academy, at 7-3, could win its last two games (including the GA-PC Day clash with the Quakers), and still only net 27 points.

Baldwin’s Bears had other ideas. On Tuesday they had achieved a 3-1 win that had knocked Springside Chestnut Hill Academy entirely out of the running for first place. On Friday against PC, they scored a second goal with around 18-and-a-half minutes remaining, tied the game three minutes later and then had freshman Callie Stoltz penetrate the Quakers’ cage to move the hosts ahead, 4-3, with 9:59 on the clock.

The Quakers attacked hard, but could not produce a tying goal, suffering their first loss of the season and leaving Bryn Mawr with an overall record of 13-1-1. The tie had come in a 1-1 overtime match against Springside Chestnut Hill in the league opener in mid-September.

Friday’s match was not really a huge upset, since in the first encounter between the teams host Penn Charter had been just a one-goal winner, by the same 4-3 score. Baldwin lost some close games early and got themselves into a bit of a hole in the Inter-Ac, but the Bears appear to be enjoying a late surge and with Friday’s outcome they moved into winning territory in the league, at 5-4.

Before the contest, Baldwin head coach and former Germantown Friends mentor Adrian Cox presided over a well-coordinated celebratory sendoff for the school’s 12 seniors, while also recognizing PC seniors Emma Maley and Ally Paul.

After dealing with some injuries in the middle of the season, Baldwin was relatively healthy, Cox reported. Penn Charter. however, had suffered a major loss during a 4-0 non-league win at Gwynedd Mercy Academy the previous Saturday. Kait Haughey, a sophomore standout who first earned a starting spot as an eighth-grader (when she was PC’s second-leading scorer), went down with a torn ACL and some additional damage, and will have to undergo surgery.

Penn Charter earned the first corner kick last Friday (headed away by the defense) and at the other end sophomore Taylor Levinson sent Baldwin’s initial shot over the crossbar. Paul appeared to put the Quakers on the board three-and-a-half minutes in, but there was no goal due to an offsides call.

Before the first five minutes were up, Charter did take a 1-0 lead, as junior Sara Shipon ran onto a fast-moving through ball and shot it past Baldwin’s advancing goalie, senior Simi Bleznak (seven saves). A little later the Quakers lofted a ball into the box, where it took a high bounce and was caught by Bleznak before PC’s sophomore high scorer, Janae Stewart, could reach it.

Baldwin tied the game just about seven minutes after the visitors broke the ice. On a long serve into the middle of the box, Georgetown-bound senior Gia Vicari was able to settle the ball with her back to the cage and then spin around for a successful shot.

Penn Charter’s Kaila Rahn (lower left) jousts for the ball with Baldwin’s Taylor Levinson as the Quakers’ India Barnes (background) looks on. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Penn Charter was beginning to demonstrate a troubling defensive tendency that it never corrected, leaving some of the opponent’s most dangerous attackers too loosely marked close to the goal. In addition, when the ball was rolling in the box, PC often tried to play small-ball with little passes under threatening circumstances, and some of them were picked off.

Nevertheless, the visitors had regained the lead by halftime. Stewart banged a shot off the crossbar with 13 minutes left, and when Baldwin came up the field Maley made two good defensive plays, first heading a served ball back out over the 18 and then running out to block a follow-up serve with her body.

The Quakers set themselves up with a 2-1 halftime edge when junior India Barnes drove in a shot from the right side of the box with 3:49 to go. When they took a corner kick in the final minute, a ball off the head of Stewart was grabbed by the Baldwin keeper, Bleznak.

Penn Charter acquired an insurance goal just 69 seconds into the second half. There was no shot directly off of a PC corner kick from the right, and the ball traveled out of the box on the far side. Baldwin did not completely clear it through, and Stewart charged back toward the inside and fired to make it 3-1.

Like Penn Charter early in the game, Baldwin now saw an apparent goal negated by an offsides flag. After a corner kick by the hosts about nine minutes in bore no fruit, they kept attacking. A skillful passing sequence ended with a shot from the middle of the box by senior Natalie Sgro, but PC junior goalie Riley McDade (five saves) had stepped out to cut down the shooting angles and she made the save.

Although the Quakers’ 3-1 lead held up for the time being, Baldwin was increasingly controlling the flow of play, getting to the type of 50/50 balls Penn Charter was winning earlier in the afternoon.

The Bears drew within a goal of their guests with 18:35 left to play, when freshman Brianna Wright was taken down in the box and a penalty kick was called. On the actual PK by Vicari, PC’s McDade did a great job of blocking the ball over toward the right post, but when it rolled loose in front of her Vicari alertly charged in to punch in the rebound before any PC defenders arrived.

Not long after that, the Quakers were slapped with a yellow card and Baldwin lined up for a free kick out along the right sideline in the offensive half. On the inside, Sgro scored off of the serve to tie the bout at 3-3 with 15:31 remaining.

Even now, Baldwin played with more urgency than Penn Charter. Starting with a short tap from a corner on the left and then crossing the ball into the middle, Baldwin took the lead on a strike on the inside by Stoltz.

In the last 10 minutes, the Quakers revived and pressed up in quest of an equalizer. A long free kick by Maley traveled outside of the upper left corner, and a shot by Shipon was blocked by a defender right at the mouth of the goal. Another shot by Shipon from the right side of the box missed a little wide on the left, and the visitors also came up empty on a late corner kick opportunity.

For the Quakers, the first loss of the season was bound to have a bitter taste in the short term. Still, their hard work had put them in a very strong position in the race for the Inter-Ac title. The Baldwin game was just the first of three chances they would have to win it. Next up would be a home match with the Academy of Notre Dame on Tuesday, and then a road game at GA on Nov. 10.

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