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GIRLS SOCCER: It’s On to The Semifinals After a Wild First Round of Playoffs in the PCL

By Marc Narducci Photos: Donna Eckert, 10/20/23, 2:30PM EDT


Photos/Videos: Donna Eckert & Marc Narducci

By: Marc Narducci

SPRINGFIELD, PA – The Philadelphia Catholic League girls’ soccer playoffs began, where it was better to be a lower seeded team. In one of the games, every single second counted. Now it is on to the semifinals following a memorable first round.

After that wild first round, here are the matchups for Tuesday’s semifinals at Gwynedd Mercy University.

(5) Nazareth Academy vs. (2) Archbishop Ryan, 4 p.m.

(6) St. Hubert vs. (1) Archbishop Wood, 6 p.m.

Here is a look at the first-round quarterfinal games.

(5) Nazareth Academy 1, (4) Cardinal O’Hara 0

Nazareth Academy won’t soon forget its first ever PCL playoff game, all 109 minutes and 57 seconds worth.

The Pandas gave credence to the saying ‘every second counts’ after scoring the game-winning goal with three seconds left in the second overtime.

It looked like both teams were getting ready to send out their top five penalty kickers, when Nazareth Academy’s Devon Cheeseman scored on a rebound.

In its first year playing in the PCL, Nazareth Academy has enjoyed a strong debut season

For much of the game, Nazareth Academy controlled possession and kept running into an unstoppable force in the name of Cardinal O’Hara keeper Ava Hneleski.

The senior made 20 saves, several of them spectacular, leaving Nazareth Academy shaking its collective heads in disbelief.

Abby Rock sends a shot on goal that was blocked and Devon Cheeseman scores on the rebound to give Nazareth a 1-0 quarterfinal win vs. Cardinal O'Hara - PSD Video by Marc Narducci

Finally, the Pandas amounted one last scoring chance and this time they cashed in. Junior Abby Rock sent a long shot on goal that Hnelski made a sliding diving save on. The ball bounced away, but Cheeseman, following the play, was right there to one-time the rebound inside the near post and the post-game celebration began.

Rock took her shot from approximately 27 yards out.

“I knew there was 10 seconds left and just a shot maybe would go in,” she said.

So she let it rip.

The shot didn’t go in, but Cheeseman did what every soccer player is told from a young age, always follow the shot.

Cheeseman never broke stride and tapped in the rebound.

“Coach always says follow shots and I did it, muscle memory at that point, so I was just there,” Cheeseman said.

She only had one thought as time was running out.

“I thought we had to score, we cannot go to PK’s,” she said. “We played a really hard, full game and we had seconds left and needed to win.”

As for the game-winning play, Nazareth Academy coach Dan Bradley wasn’t surprised that Rock was the architect.

“Abby is like a point guard, she sees the field,” Bradley said. “She finds the seams and we keep preaching about crashing the net.”

Bradley also took time to praise Hnelski, who was the single reason why the game even went into two overtimes.

“Their keeper was unbelievable,” he said. “They packed it in, played to their strengths and we just kept at it.”

Devon Cheeseman talks about scoring the game-winning goal and is excited to make it to the PCL semifinals - PSD Video by Marc Narducci

Abby Rock walks us through the final 10 seconds of their quarterfinal game vs. O'Hara - PSD Video by Marc Narducci

It must be noted that Nazareth Academy keeper Gracie Sullivan had a strong game, with eight saves to earn the shutout.

There wasn’t much that Cardinal O’Hara coach Dave Cornish could say after such a difficult loss. His team played their hearts out.

“It’s a gut-wrenching,” he said.

Then Cornish reflected on his veterans.

“The seniors have been one of the best groups of seniors I have had with the leadership and the talent of the players out there,” he said. “We really thought we were going to go one step further.”

This season very little separated these two teams. Just 10 days before the playoff game, the two played to a scoreless draw in double overtime.

Now Nazareth Academy will face its neighbor Archbishop Ryan in the semifinal. If the playoff game approaches their regular season meeting, then it should be some event.

In Nazareth Academy’s first-ever PCL game, the Pandas lost a 3-2 decision at Archbishop Ryan. The winning Ragdolls overcame a 2-0 deficit to win the game.

(6) St. Hubert 4, (3) Archbishop Carroll 2

It looks like this young St. Hubert team might be slightly ahead of schedule. The Bambies have just three seniors on the team.

Of course, all three seniors played a major role in this win. Angelina Kinniry and fellow senior Lowie D’Andrea each scored two goals. Sam Kinniry, the twin sister of Angelina, was a major contributor on defense.

The seniors showed great leadership and the younger players followed the lead in what may have been the most complete game of the season.

“This is basically what we have been working toward all season,” St. Hubert coach Jeannette Hibbs said. “We have been solid in terms of possession and our run of the game, but we weren’t scoring.”

That all changed in the playoff game.

The score was tied at halftime as D’Andrea scored on a free kick and Carroll’s Molly Friel tied it after converting a cross.

St. Hubert then got goals from D’Andrea and Kinniry to take a 3-1 lead. Carroll’s Colleen Lloyd made it 3-2, but then Angelina Kinniry scored the all-important insurance goal.

These two teams had just played on Oct. 9, with Archbishop Carroll earning a 2-1 win.

In the playoff win, St. Hubert altered its strategy.

“We played a little narrower and played one of our midfielders deeper to pick up their runner,” Hibbs said. “We couldn’t get everything away from them, but we took away the middle.”

St. Hubert vs. Archbishop Carroll - PSD Quarterfinal Highlights by Donna Eckert

Hibbs also cited her defense, consisting of Grace Smith, Sam Kinniry and Riley Roesner. Freshman keeper Quin Miller was solid in goal, while sophomore Luca D’Andrea was a force in the midfield.

Now it’s on to face two-time defending PCL champion Archbishop Wood. On Oct. 5 St. Hubert lost a 3-2 decision to Wood.

Archbishop Wood’s Ava DeGeorge has enjoyed ‘stress-free’ senior season

Archbishop Wood midfielder Ava DeGeorge has had a stress-free senior season, at least as far as recruiting goes. One of the top players in the Philadelphia area, DeGeorge committed to Rider in February.

“I was really relieved not to have to worry about this senior year and to still be really close to home,” she said.

A midfielder with an array of moves to break down defenders, DeGeorge should fit in well at Rider. Then again there are plenty of schools she would have been a good fit.

Archbishop Wood senior midfielder Ava DeGeorge #5 is heading to Rider University next season - PSD photo by Donna Eckert

One of the beauties of making her decision is February is that DeGeorge has been able to concentrate on her senior without any worry about recruiting.

With DeGeorge playing a major role, Archbishop Wood has won the previous two Philadelphia Catholic League titles, and the Vikings are the top seed in this year’s tournament.

Even though DeGeorge felt relieved at making her decision, she wasn’t overwhelmed by the process.

“For me, I wasn’t that stressed with it,” she said. “My parents were telling me it will work out.”

And it has worked out quite well. DeGeorge couldn’t be happier with her decision.

“It is a great school, there are really good players, and they like to build out of the back, which I really like,” she said.

For DeGeorge, earning a scholarship came through a life-long effort. She said she began playing the game at the age of four.

“And it’s been great, my dad has always coached me,” she said.

Tom DeGeorge is not only the head coach of Archbishop Wood, but her father is her club coach for Philadelphia Soccer Club Coppa Rage.

In the summer of 2022, the Rage won the U-17 US Youth Soccer national championship in Orlando.

“That was such a thrill,” she said.

Archbishop Wood will play St. Hubert in the PCL semifinal on Oct. 24 at Gwynedd Mercy University - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert

So has winning the previous two PCL championships.

What DeGeorge savors as much as anything is being able to play for her father and compete for championships.

“I love it,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for any better coach.”

And her coach couldn’t ask for a better player either.