Spring-Ford’s Sammy Stipa (middle) celebrates after her goal leveled the game at one with less than two minutes remaining in the PIAA-AAA final
Spring-Ford's Sammy Stipa (middle) celebrates after her goal leveled the game at one with less than two minutes remaining in the PIAA-AAA final against Neshaminy. Spring-Ford lost 2-1 in overtime. (Kevin Hoffman/The Mercury)

HERSHEY — There couldn't have been more than a few people inside Hersheypark Stadium — and all the way to District 1 territory — who didn't wonder if the Spring-Ford girls soccer team was truly a team of destiny.

An improbable game-tying goal with little more than two minutes remaining in a game will make a believer out of nearly anyone.

Unfortunately for the Rams, Neshaminy wasn't among those converted.

After Sammy Stipa scored off a corner kick from Aley Kate McKinley late in the second half to force overtime, the Redskins came out roaring before Gabby Farrell set up Amy Mandia for the golden goal four minutes into the extra frame as Neshaminy capped an undefeated season with a 2-1 overtime victory over Spring-Ford to win the PIAA Class AAA championship.

Spring-Ford’s Gabby Vagnozzi gets around a Neshaminy defender early in the first half during the PIAA-AAA girls soccer title game. Spring-Ford lost
Spring-Ford's Gabby Vagnozzi gets around a Neshaminy defender early in the first half during the PIAA-AAA girls soccer title game. Spring-Ford lost 2-1 in overtime. (Kevin Hoffman/ The Mercury)

Redskins star Megan Schafer put her team on top five minutes into the contest, getting on the end of a long free kick from defender Amy Heller, a lead Neshaminy rode until Stipa's heroics.

Ultimately, after completing a perfect 25-0 season, the Redskins may have been destiny's team all along.

"We had a perfect season (on the line) and we worked so hard for this opportunity, we didn't want to waste it,' said Mandia, a junior midfielder.

"In the beginning of the year we made a goal for ourselves to be undefeated at home. But who would have thought we'd be undefeated home and away throughout the whole season. It's amazing to think about,' senior midfielder Katie Suchodolski said.

Yet, for Spring-Ford, a silver medal at the PIAA Championships is hard to fathom considering the Rams had never even played in their own league playoffs prior to this season.

"I couldn't be more proud of what we've accomplished,' said McKinley, a senior forward. "Over the past three months we've proven so many people wrong. We've left our heart out on the field every single time.

"Neshaminy's a great team. They had a special season. We couldn't come up with the win tonight but overall we showed that we're a great team and had a great season.'

Spring-Ford’s senior class holds up the second place trophy during a post game ceremony at HersheyPark Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Spring-Ford
Spring-Ford's senior class holds up the second place trophy during a post game ceremony at HersheyPark Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Spring-Ford lost 2-1 in overtime to Neshaminy in the PIAA-AAA title game. (Kevin Hoffman/ The Mercury)

It's hard to argue for a team that won its first Pioneer Athletic Conference championship, reached its first PIAA tournament after earning the district's final spot through playbacks after falling to Neshaminy — who else — in the quarterfinals, 2-1. Then in states, the Rams knocked off the best that District 3 and District 7 had to offer, Cumberland Valley and Seneca Valley, respectively, sandwiched around a win over District 1 runner-up Downingtown East.

Not so bad for the No. 8 seed in the District 1 playoffs.

Only Neshaminy had what it took to play the foil. But that wasn't to say the Redskins weren't wary of their opponent in the PIAA final; quite the opposite.

"We had a feeling we were going to see them again,' Neshaminy's Schafer said of the Rams. "I knew they were going to come for us for revenge. We just had to put our bodies on the line.'

It was a dream start for the Redskins, Schafer running on to Heller's 30-yard free kick placed into the space between the defensive line and the goal for a simple touch and 1-0 lead just 5:02 into the game.

The Rams nearly got it right back when sophomore Gabrielle Vagnozzi played McKinley through the defense, but Neshaminy goalkeeper McKenna Mullin got a touch on the chipped shot. On the ensuing corner, Stipa had a superb chance on a McKinley corner, but her shot ticked the crossbar.

Spring-Ford's hopes took another blow when senior Megan Giannopoulos, who scored three goals during the team's state run, went down with a serious ankle injury.

It especially hurt based on what the Redskins were expecting.

"They have great outside strikers (Giannopoulos and Vagnozzi) that can make amazing runs,' Mandia said. "They are a great team overall and they really take advantage of their chances. We just had to keep them out wide and work because they are a fabulous team.'

Spring-Ford goalkeeper Jenna Griggs kept the Rams in it on a point-blank shot from standout sophomore Gabby Farrell with six minutes left in the first half, as the Rams were content to ride out their 1-0 deficit into halftime.

Into the second half the Rams' defensive tenacity kept it a one-goal game thanks to a crucial tackle by senior midfielder Sarah Hancock on a Schafer-to-Farrell hookup, a block by sophomore defender Laura Suero and a save off the goal line by senior Kristen Baumgartner.

As the game progressed with Giannopoulos out and Vagnozzi dealing with an ankle injury the Rams looked most likely to score a goal on a corner kick.

Ask and the Rams received.

McKinley flew her kick to the far post and Stipa ran on and fired it high to the near-side to level the game 1-1 and sent the Spring-Ford faithful into a frenzy.

"It was a perfect example of who we are as a team. Down 1-0 with three minutes left and we get a goal,' McKinley said.

But Neshaminy and its stable of seniors -- Schafer, Heller, Suchodolski, Stephanie Donahue and goalkeeper Mullin — aren't a team in the business of laying down.

"I got silent inside my head. I was kind of devastated. But I knew we could come back,' Suchodolski said. "We had the most of the play and we had everything going for us.'

Practically before the excitement of the Rams' equalizer had worn off, Neshaminy was back on the attack. Schafer sprung Farrell down the left side. Farrell' shot got past Griggs toward goal and Mandia put the finishing touch on the Redskins' run 3:56 into overtime.

"The team has a lot of heart and we were so motivated by each other and played for each other,' Suchodolski said. "Especially the seniors, this was our last game and we knew this was it.'

It was a fitting finish for a Neshaminy squad that fell in the PIAA semifinals last season.

As for Spring-Ford, a loss in the state final can't dilute an amazing run unlike any coach Sheldon Chamberlain had been a part of in his four decades on the sidelines.

"The best ever and I've been around 46 years coaching,' Chamberlain said of Spring-Ford's run. "They were special because of the personality of the players. Whatever we asked of them they did it. They're just fabulous.'

It's a run that put Spring-Ford on the map.

"It's ridiculous. Two years ago we had a losing season,' McKinley said. "The work that we have put into this program, and leaving a legacy behind ... the transformation we've made is fantastic and I'm really proud.'

NOTES

Griggs finished with nine saves while Mullin recorded four. ... Neshaminy led in shots and corners, 11-5 and 10-6, respectively. ... In Saturday's other PIAA soccer championships, Upper St. Clair defeated Conestoga Valley, 4-0, in the boys AAA final; Holy Ghost Prep defeated West Allegheny 1-0 in OT in the boys AA final; Central Valley topped Trinity 2-1 in the girls