ENOLA >> Speed definitely can be an invaluable asset on any soccer field and a determined East Pennsboro side with plenty of quicks took advantage.
And, try as they might at different times to climb back in, Ray Kreiser's Annville-Cleona Little Dutchmen never could erase their early deficit.
Colin Grove pocketed three finishes and set up a fourth as East Pennsboro wheeled past Kreiser's Dutchmen 4-1 in a District 3-AA round-of-16 match Monday night at chilly George Saxton Memorial Stadium.
Sebastian Oliveira also located the back of the net for the host Panthers (14-4-1), who will take on top-seeded Gettysburg, a 6-0 victor over Biglerville, in Thursday night's quarterfinal round.
Gordon Parks buried a penalty kick with 7:30 remaining in the first half, providing energy and momentum for an A-C club (16-5-0) that conceded the first three goals of the all-or-nothing scrap in the opening 25-plus minutes.
Kreiser's Dutchmen also picked up two saves from goalkeeper Koy Alwine, one fewer than East Penn's Nick Caldwell.
"We knew that they had some good team speed on the outside and we just made two real big defensive mistakes on the outside — which ended up costing us both of the goals early on," Kreiser lamented. "At this level, that's all it takes."
Even though A-C generated the first scoring chance — Javier Gonzalez Sanchez skipped a shot wide in the opening moments — Grove soon was operating at top end and causing all sorts of problems for the Dutchmen defenders.
Playing facilitator early, Grove was able to run on to a Noah Campomizzi delivery and carry it to the end line. Cutting toward goal, Grove promptly spotted Oliveira alone near the left post. One cross later, the Panthers led 1-0.
Another perfectly timed pass several minutes later, this one from D.J. Reider, had Grove behind the A-C defense. And, with only Alwine to beat, Grove's pop from 20 yards out, hopped just inside the left upright at the 8:14 mark.
"Colin Grove, he's a ballplayer," said veteran East Penn skipper Randy Rich, who guided a team into the 3-AA quarters for the first time.
Grove wasn't done, connecting at 25:25 and 59:47 to close out a hat trick.
And while Grove & Co. were able to find all sorts of space in the A-C backfield, Dutchmen ace Matt Light encountered resistance throughout. While right back Reider and stopper Tyler Baer took turns offering primary cover, sweeper Mitch Henry and left back Colin Margraf knew where the prolific Light was.
"They basically had 2-3 guys on him all night long because they could," Kreiser said. "Because we were not possessing the ball in the midfield and that's where it just sort of fell apart for us. Without being able to possess and control the ball, it allowed them to do a lot of their quick counterattack and long services."
While Parks' PK gave the Dutchmen a boost late in the first half, a renewed effort early in the second continued A-C's probe for a much-needed finish.
One that never came.
"Tonight wasn't our night," Kreiser said. "I told the guys I don't want them hanging their heads because we had a great season. We're going home with a lot of good teams at this point. That's what the playoffs are all about."
East Pennsboro 4, Annville-Cleona 1
First half — AC: Gordon Parks (penalty kick), EP: Sebastian Oliveira, Colin Grove 2
Second half — EP: Grove
Assists — EP: Grove, D.J. Reider, Jordan Moore
Shots on goal — East Pennsboro 14, Annville-Cleona 6;
Corners — East Pennsboro 6, Annville-Cleona 1;
Saves — AC:Koy Alwine (2 saves), EP: Nick Caldwell (3 saves)