Wildcats follow same path; seek new outcome

NEWTOWN — Greenwood opened the state field hockey playoffs Tuesday night in much the same fashion that it did last year.

Now the Wildcats are hoping the rest of the postseason plays out much differently than it did in 2016.

For the second consecutive year, District 3’s third-place team from Greenwood began the PIAA Class A tournament with a victory over District 1-12 regional champion Gwynedd Mercy Academy.

The Wildcats posted a 2-1 win over the Monarchs at Council Rock North’s Walt Snyder Stadium, getting the winning goal from Leah Bryner with 12:32 left in the second half of a game that was played in a steady rain throughout.

A year ago, Greenwood also knocked off Gwynedd Mercy in the opening round of states, only to drop a 5-0 quarterfinal matchup four days later against eventual state champion Moravian Academy.

As luck would have it, the Wildcats (20-5) will get another shot at Moravian Academy in this Saturday’s state quarterfinals at a site and time to be determined. District 11 champion Moravian advanced with a 3-0 win over Mifflinburg on Tuesday.

“I think we definitely have the potential to go really far this year,” said Bryner, who converted a feed from Grace Lesh on Greenwood’s seventh and final penalty corner of the second half. “I think we can do it this year.”

The game didn’t start out all that well for the Wildcats. The teams both arrived a little later than intended because of inclement weather. Greenwood had a three-hour, 20-minute bus ride to Council Rock North, and the game started about 25 minutes later than its 6 p.m. scheduled time.

Then, a little less than eight minutes into the contest, Wildcats’ junior standout Paityn Wirth drew a green card that forced her to the sideline, and Greenwood played one player short for two minutes. Gwynedd Mercy seized the opportunity and gained the early lead.

On a penalty corner, the Monarchs’ Alden Boccella scored with an assist from Gabby Saxon, and Gwynedd led 1-0 with 21:20 to play in the first half.

As soon as she got back onto the field, Wirth worked hard to create a scoring chance that drew the Wildcats even. She made a long solo run down the right side, dribbled into the circle and found teammate Cori Davis alone at the left post. Davis knocked the ball into the cage, tying the game with 19:21 to play in the half.

Bryner said getting the equalizing goal so quickly was a big key to the win.

“It was super important,” Bryner said. “We’ve been down in games before and managed to get back up, but you want to get the momentum back.”

Boccella concurred that it was a bit of an emotional letdown for the Monarchs when they surrendered the lead so quickly.

“Our first goal kept the momentum up, and we wanted to keep going up from there,” Boccella said. “Once they got the second goal, I feel like it plummeted our spirit and everything, but we tried to come back from it.”

The rest of the first half was played on even terms, but Greenwood dominated the action after intermission. The Wildcats held an 8-0 edge in shots and a 7-0 advantage in penalty corners during the second half, but the Monarchs hung tough defensively and made the Wildcats gut out the one-goal win.

Greenwood coach Kent Houser was pleased with his team’s performance.

“For a four-hour bus ride and weather conditions like these, I thought we played really well, and I thought (Gwynedd Mercy) did too,” Houser said. “Everything considered, I think it was a really good field hockey game.

“Both teams played really well. The ball moved. It was a good, quick game. I thought the conditions were really hard, but, you know what? It didn’t look like it on the field. I thought both teams handled the conditions great.”

Although Greenwood’s defense held Gwynedd Mercy without a shot in the second half and allowed just two shots all game, the Monarchs’ Lily Gilmore actually had a potential breakaway opportunity with 50 seconds remaining. The Wildcats were able to clear the ball out of harm’s way, however, and begin thinking about the state quarterfinals and trying to surpass last year’s postseason performance.

“I really hate comparing teams,” Houser said, when asked if this year’s Wildcats seem poised to go deeper into the postseason than last year’s squad. “You just try to play one game at a time and, this time of the year, you try to figure what you need to work on for the next game.”

Greenwood 2, Gwynedd Mercy Academy 1

First half

GMA–Alden Boccella (Gabby Saxon), 21:20. Gr–Cori Davis (Paityn Wirth), 19:21.

Second half

Gr–Leah Bryner (Grace Lesh), 12:32.

Shots: Gr 11-2. Corners: Gr 10-3. Saves: Gr-1 (Kelsey Sheaffer), GM-6 (Zoe Rogers).