Pennridge Falls Just Short in State Title Game

Pennridge came up just short in its bid to win the program’s second PIAA 4A state title in three years, falling to Central Dauphin 2-1. (Photos provided courtesy of Althea Tomlinson/Pennridge soccer)

PIAA 4A State Final
#3-2 Central Dauphin 2, #1-5 Pennridge 1

Pennridge's captains put on a smile to receive the PIAA 4A runner-up trophy Saturday night, but the looks they and the rest of the Rams had were more telling.

A mixture of sadness, frustration, a little anger and some disgust mixed in summed up the team's collective feeling about how it had all ended against Central Dauphin in the state title game. Pennridge had played well, probably well enough to win on most nights, but when it gets to the final fixture of the season, one seemingly minor thing can swing the outcome.

An unlucky deflection put the ball in the path of the one player Pennridge didn't want anywhere near it, and CD's Kayden Williams didn't miss, her goal with 4:23 left lifted Central Dauphin and denied Pennridge its second state title in three seasons.

"I know we're all going to get home and blame ourselves and be hard on ourselves, we have to know we win as a team and we lose as a team," Pennridge midfielder and co-captain Sophie Craig said. "We take this, we roll with it, and we come back stronger next year."

Central Dauphin, the District 3 runner-up, provided exactly what Pennridge expected them to. Sharing the Rams mascot with Pennridge, CD also shared a high-tempo pressure style of soccer and had similar ideas of how to get forward, how to create chances and how to defend.

If it was solely about execution, Pennridge had the advantage in terms of opportunities and the unofficial stat of feeling like it was the team dictating play. Yet, when Central Dauphin had chances, it made them count.

Less than 10 minutes into the game, CD pushed forward, got into the box and drew a foul to set up an early penalty kick. Senior Nia Chinapoo, the head of a collectively tough midfield trio, stepped to the spot and sank the kick for an early 1-0 lead.

"At the captains' meeting, they reminded us - we're one of two teams still playing," Pennridge coach Audrey Anderson said. "You never want to be the first loser, or however you'd describe it, but it's still a huge accomplishment for these girls to have overcome some of the issues we had early in the season and moving girls around.

"I thought we were incredibly unlucky, but I did like our desire to go forward, our drive and intensity. Tori (Angelo), you could tell how hard she was playing, she wanted to win this game and I think our whole group out there had that same want to win this game."

Angelo challenged CD goalkeeper Sammy Wianick soon after the penalty kick, and it wasn't long after where it felt like a flow of one-way traffic was going toward the Central Dauphin goal. The trio of Chinapoo, Katie Reynolds and Makenna Kirk broke some things up, but the more Criag and Liv Grenda kept going at them, the more things started to unlock for Pennridge.

"They're a really good team but I thought we played well, and we played as a team," Pennridge defender Anna Croyle said. "It was just unlucky, I guess.

"There's not a player on this team that wants to play selfishly, and we wanted to do it together. Win or lose, we're together and that's what helped get us all the way here."

In 2020, as freshmen, Grenda, Croyle and a few other current juniors were starters when Pennridge won its first state title with a double overtime win against North Allegheny. That match was decided by one chance, much like Saturday's came down to one opportunity.

Going from the euphoria of winning a match like that to being on the other side, Grenda saw the reflection in her state medal and didn't like what was looking back.

"Looking down and seeing a silver medal instead of a gold one, it hurts a little bit, especially when you feel like you put so much into the game," Grenda said. "We're going to come back so much stronger. Part of it is we won it in 2020 so we don't really know this feeling of coming in second so we're going to come back next year as hard as we can, and if we get back here, hopefully when we get back to the state championship next year, we're going to remember this feeling."

The state playoffs have seen an extra determination in the way the Rams generated their attack and hunted goals. There was a desire to get past defenders, to get into the box, fight through tight spaces and go after the ball.

That approach helped them win their state semifinal and it helped them find the tying goal on Saturday.

Grenda drew a foul trying to take on a defender, giving Pennridge a free kick in a decent area. Craig played the service into the box, where a Central Dauphin back headed it, but back toward her own goal. The scramble caused Wianick to palm the ball off her line but left the rebound wide open, and Hailey Primwhere was right there to hit it home.

"We have a great connection," Primwhere said. "That's what makes this team so much fun."

Primwhere - her twin sister Hannah again filling in at center back - has been an ace role player this fall, mostly coming in off the bench to spell the forwards.

"I'm not like a star on this team but when I go in, I play for my team and give it my all," Primwhere said. "When I'm on the field, I have to do what I can for my team. Following shots for goals is something I've really been working on. I wanted to win this game, we all wanted to win, so I was giving my all and everything was going to net."

Pennridge didn't have one or two talisman players that carried it to the title game. Instead, the Rams used their balance and variety as an asset, relying on several players to score goals and inviting players from the back to join in the attack.

Croyle, a co-captain along with Craig, Grenda and senior Joey Tomlinson, agreed that each player would probably blame themselves and added that no one person was at fault for the outcome.  If a team approach got them to the last fixture of the season, that's the way they were going to leave the grounds at Cumberland Valley's Eagle View Middle School.

"We all had one common goal in mind and we never gave up on it," Craig said. "It didn't matter if you were coming off the bench or were a starter, you worked for your position and you worked for each other and that's what made our team so strong. We were so connected in all different ways, even if we were the better team here tonight, it doesn't matter but we know we'll still work hard next year."

From the moment Primwhere tied the game to the end of the first half, Pennridge hammered Central Dauphin. The SOL Colonial winners had four corner kicks and another free kick on the edge of the box that all forced CD into some kind of clearance or stand just to see it to the break at 1-1.

When Casey Malone, who had another excellent game defensively by quieting CD's Jazmine  Zakheir, forced a save to open the second half, it seemed like more of the same was to come.

"We've been playing really well, it's unfortunate that we didn't just put a couple more in the back to push us through to halftime," Grenda said. "I thought we had a lot of momentum going forward but we didn't finish our chances and ended up losing."

Anderson has now coached in four state title games, all of them decided by one goal, so she knows how much that little extra push means at the end of the season. It's still an accomplishment to get to the end and there aren't a lot of teams that can say they played for two PIAA titles in a three-year span. but she didn't expect her players to be content with the outcome on Saturday.

"The hardest part for us is getting out of districts and once you get out of districts, then you're right on the edge. This will remind them how much it takes and the composure it takes to win a state championship game," Anderson said. "Those juniors were freshmen, they didn't know any better, they thought it was just like any other game and now they're on the other end and now the whole program recognizes we have to be a little bit better than the other team to put the ball in the back of the net. I know this group well and this is going to leave a bad taste."

Pennridge's lone senior ended her career a win short of her second state title, but Tomlinson left what she had on the field for her team. The Robert Morris-bound co-captain pursued the ball relentlessly, dropped back to try and win it off CD players and challenged bigger, stronger players as she's always done.

The only one not returning next year, Tomlinson nonetheless hoped Pennridge would be right back in the same spot next fall, just one goal better than the other team.

"I want them to continue to play as hard as they do in every game and hopefully get back here, which I know they can," Tomlinson said. "This program means everything to me. I've had a great experience here and I wouldn't wish it any other way."

Most of the team's players will move on to club ball in the coming weeks, some will play winter or spring sports at Pennridge but come next August, they'll be back with one unified goal.

"The ending and the result is going to make us play 10 times stronger next season," Primwhere said. "I think next season we're going to come back. Even though we gave it our all, we're going to keep pushing."

The one person Pennridge didn't want to have the ball on her foot late was Williams, the sophomore dynamo who has already eclipsed 100 career points. For the most part, they kept it away from her, although Williams did flash a pair of chances wide of goal out of almost nothing in the second half.

However, inside the final five minutes, the ball would find her. A shot taken from long range by another CD player deflected off the back of a Pennridge defender trying to get out of the way, the redirect landing in front of Williams with a little room to spare.

She was able to settle the ball onto her right foot and a split-second before a pair of defenders could converge on her, the sophomore blasted home the winning goal with 4:23 on the clock.

"I can't fault any one player, I can't fault the team at all, we just came up short," Anderson said. "I'm not an excuse-maker, there were moments and chances, and we didn't capitalize on them. I'm sure that will fuel us for next year."
The climb that starts again at the end of summer is long and challenging. All the Pennridge players will have to do to find motivation is look at what they brought home with them on Saturday.

"After we got our silver medals, some of us were joking with each other, trying to cheer each other up like 'it's ok, we'll be here next year,'" Craig said. "If we come here next year, we'd rather lose this year so we can win next year in our senior year. We'll miss Joey dearly, but we're coming back with mostly the same people, and we'll be even stronger than we were this year."

Pennridge closed out its successful season with a 23-3 record, 15-1 in the Suburban One League.

Goals; P- Hailey Primwhere