ROYERSFORD — Nobody on the Spring-Ford girls soccer team had ever played a Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four match — let alone a championship contest — coming into the week. And none of them had ever beaten two-time defending champion Boyertown.
But that all changed on Thursday night at Coach McNelly Stadium when the Rams scored early in the second half and basically kept the Bears so busy playing defense the rest of the way that they couldn't mount much of an offense for a 2-1 win in the team's first-ever PAC-10 championship.
Senior midfielder Sarah Hancock knocked in what proved to be the game-winner just 1:33 after the halftime break. Earlier, Megan Giannopoulos had given Spring-Ford (17-1-1) a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute before the Bears (15-1-2) tied it on a long free kick by Emily Saxon in the 18th minute.
The two sides had tied at 1-1 early in the season and Boyertown had handed Spring-Ford its only loss of the season later on by a 1-0 score, making the final win all the sweeter for the Rams.
"Honestly, even though we didn't win the first two times we played them, to have a loss coming into this game was humbling,' said senior midfielder Giannopoulos, who kept Boyertown busy right from the start with shots on goals, crosses, and maneuvers through the defense. "I'd never beaten them in my career. It's the biggest thing for us to beat Boyertown.'
"We didn't beat them ever,' added senior midfielder Hancock.
The Rams opened the scoring off one of their seven corner kicks for the night (to none for Boyertown) when Aley Kate McKinley put her kick right out in front from the right corner and the ball kicked around in front of the goal until Giannopoulos booted it home.
"Any time there's a corner, there's always chaos,' said Giannopoulos. "It's important to pick up the trash.'
Boyertown tied it on a straight away free kick from 30 yards out by Saxon with 22:41 left in the half. But that was one of the few good scoring opportunities for the defense-minded Bears as the Rams wound up with a 7-2 advantage in shots in the first half and a 12-2 margin on the night.
"Our defense is awesome,' said Giannopoulos. "If we lost any player, we wouldn't be the team we are.'
"Including the bench,' Hancock added quickly.
Then the Rams struck soon after the break when Giannopoulos — creating her usual havoc — dribbled through the defense on the left end line for a cross into the middle that was kicked out by a defender to Hancock, who punched in her goal from 20 yards out.
"I was hanging back, anticipating where it went,' said Hancock. "That's why you have to keep the ball in there.'
After that, the Rams limited the opportunities by the Bears, who eventually started to apply some pressure with about six minutes left. But a loose ball off the hands of goalkeeper Hope Davis (one save) was booted out of trouble, a long kick into the box was headed out by a Spring-Ford defender, and a 40-yard free kick by Saxon with under two minutes to go sailed wide right of the goal.
"We were able to play 80 minutes of hard work,' said Hancock. "They got tired. We didn't.'
"I've never seen a team work as hard as we do,' said Giannopoulos, who said that her team didn't really change anything after the two non-wins against the Bears. "My personal opinion is that we're the best team in the PAC-10. We just play as a team. We all have confidence in our abilities.'
Boyertown coach Bill Goddard — who got 10 saves from sophomore goalkeeper Sarafina Valenti — had nothing but good things to say about his team's effort.
"You're looking at two teams ranked in the top 10 in the state,' he said. "That was a state playoff game. They've got a class operation. I told the girls to be disappointed in the result, but we just went 17 games without a loss. They battled the entire game. I loved the effort. I loved the attitude. I think the game had a lot of rhythm, a lot of flow.'
And despite the lop-sided statistics, the Bear coach thought that his team played the Rams evenly after the opening 15 minutes.
"Once we scored, the game leveled out considerably,' he added. "We were trying to get the ball into our target players. To their credit, they didn't let us do that.
"They've got a lot of talent. They're quick. They've got a lot of technical girls. We just didn't get the result we were looking for today.'