CHAMBERSBURG — Coming from any coach is high praise.
Coming from Spring-Ford girls soccer coach Sheldon Chamberlain, well, it's off the charts.
"That was the best win I've ever had as a coach. And that's going back a long time,' said the highly-successful Rams coach, who has also coached the La Salle men's program and the Villanova women's program in his many decades manning the sidelines.
It became his best win when senior Megan Giannopoulos got on the end of a cross by Gabrielle Vagnozzi midway through the second overtime to give Spring-Ford a thrilling 1-0 victory over District 7 champion Seneca Valley in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals Tuesday night at Chambersburg High School, sending the Rams to the state championship game.
It's been a season of unprecedented success for Spring-Ford, going from a team that had never even won its league title to now winning its first PAC-10 championship, reaching the PIAA Championships and has won three games at states, now just one win away from hoisting the state title.
"We've said from the beginning that we felt we had the potential to make states. Although this is surreal right now I'm not surprised we're here,' Giannopoulos said.They'll meet District 1 champion Neshaminy, a 3-0 winner over Central Bucks East in Tuesday's other semifinal, on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium for the championship.
In a sport that has historically been about annual success by the usual suspects, the Rams are anything but.
But that hasn't stopped Spring-Ford from making it to this stage.
"What I find so amazing is that we didn't win PAC-10s last year or districts, we did everything this year,' senior midfielder Sarah Hancock said. "We stepped it up and took control of our own destiny.'
It's a run that's been founded on defensive pressure, technical ability, embracing the big moment and some intangibles, too.
"The excitement, the drama, the will to win, to never give up; the girls in the huddle were never giving up,' Chamberlain said.
They needed that tenacity after barely resembling the team that had defeated Cumberland Valley and Downingtown East in the first two rounds in the first half against the Raiders.
Seneca Valley, which knocked off three-time defending PIAA champion Peters Township last round, was the first team able to match Spring-Ford's ball pressure, something the Rams were caught off guard by.
"We were kind of shocked when they matched our physical intensity,' Hancock said. "We haven't really played a team that matched our intensity, but once we settled in we started playing how we know how to play.'
The Raiders looked a threat on set pieces early on, but the Rams defense — Julie Pennington, Kaitlyn Dougherty, Taylor Newhart, Laura Suero and goalkeeper Jenna Griggs — handled the danger.
As the game progressed, the Rams warmed up, even on a frigid night in Chambersburg.
From halftime on, the Rams were in charge. In the end, Spring-Ford led in shots 17-5, their best chances coming on a pair of shots from Aley Kate McKinley and Vagnozzi, but SV keeper Jessica Neill was unflappable.
Seneca Valley, which got solid play from Marykate Zahorchak, Emily Wagner and Alexis Pucci, still wouldn't allow the breakthrough though, even through the rest of regulation and a 15-minute overtime.
Vagnozzi and Giannopoulos both sat out portions of the game nursing some injuries. But when it was time to shine...
"I kept saying, ' The three of you (Giannopoulos, McKinley and Vagnozzi) have to win it. One of the three of you have to score in this overtime. You can do it.'' Chamberlain said.
With 6:31 remaining in the second overtime, Vagnozzi carried the ball to the left end line and played a sharp left-footed cross across the face of goal.
"When you're in the moment it doesn't hurt that much. You want it so badly you just have learn to push it aside and it's all worth it in the end,' Vagnozzi said.
It made it worth it as Giannopoulos ran from the far side, through traffic, and hit her shot to the near post for the game-winner.
For Chamberlain, it ranks top 3 in games he's ever coached, along side a La Salle men's win to clinch the CCAC championship and a win for the Villanova women over Penn State to gain a Top 25 national ranking in 1995.
"But this one was the most dramatic,' Chamberlain added.
Spring-Ford is a team that has come up with the big moment in every game of its state run, which is just the way Vagnozzi and company like it."It's always a big ending with us,' the sophomore said.The Rams will hope for one more Saturday.