NEWTOWN — Phoenixville gave up a lead twice in the second half of Monday night's District 1-AA girls soccer semifinal at Council Rock North's Walt Snyder Stadium. But that didn't really seem to bother the Phantoms, especially not Lauren Benner.
She just took it as part of the game and proceeded to knock in her third goal of the night with just 1:06 remaining in regulation time to give Phoenixville a 3-2 win over Gwynedd Mercy and its first-ever trip to the district final.
The sixth-seeded Phantoms (11-7-1) will play for the title and the district's only spot in the PIAA-AA Tournament on Wednesday at 5 p.m. back at CR North against top-seeded Villa Joseph Marie, a 2-0 winner over Upper Perkiomen in the earlier semifinal.
"Soccer is interesting,' said Benner. "It's an 80-minute game. Anything can happen. It's an ' I score, you score' game. You can't put your head down.'
All of the goals came in the second half with Benner scoring just 1:15 in on a setup by Katie Fritsche. Margaret Jones tied it for second-seeded Gwynedd (12-7) in the 19th minute of the half on a point-blank shot off a rebound.
Then Benner beat the Monarchs keeper to the ball on a fast break and put the Phantoms back on top with 8:12 to go. Theresa Webster tied it up again on a rebound from a shot off a corner kick with 3:51 left. But Benner took it upon herself to put her side back on top when she maneuvered close to the goal and beat the last defender for the winning blast.
"I cut and cut again, and just picked a corner,' said the Phantom junior. "Just lots of cutting. My ankles are going to feel it tomorrow morning.
"She just did everything tonight,' said first-year Phoenixville coach Tim Raub. "The grit, the determination. That last goal was just pure determination. Five goals in two games in the playoffs. She's coming to play in the playoffs, and that's what good players do.'
Raub thought that getting that first goal against the district runner-up to Villa Joseph Marie the last two seasons was big.
"We've allowed goals this year,' he said. "The good thing was getting the early lead and not having to play from behind.'
"We just fought and fought,' said Phantoms junior Cecelia Knaub. "They'd get a goal, but we didn't let it get to us. I thought we had the better of it in the first half. We came out in the second half and finished it. I'm so proud. One of our goals was to shut them down in the midfield and I think we did that well.'
Phoenixville senior Gia Tedesco said her team wanted to eliminate long shots by the Monarchs.
"We had some scouting reports and numbers to look at,' she said. "They had a few threats and we were told to step in front of them and stop them from distance.'
Last year the Phantoms had lost in the semifinals by a 3-0 score to Villa Joseph Marie, which went on to down Gwynedd on penalty kicks in the final.
"We've made history for Phoenixville girls,' Tedesco added. "We started out the year beating a team we hadn't beaten in 16 years (Owen J. Roberts). Then we went into a slump. We knew we had to set goals at the end of the season. We know our strengths and weaknesses and we play to our strengths.'
"It's great,' said Raub, who got six saves from keeper Bri Cooley. "This was one of our goals all season. The girls have worked their tails off. They're going all 80 minutes. That's just the attitude of these kids. I'm ecstatic. This is far beyond my expectations for this year.'
Benner now has 20 goals on the year to go with three assists.
"It's exciting,' she said. "The team played great. It wasn't just me. The whole team connected and I just got in on the end of them.'