Weaver’s goal lifts Pleasant Valley
SWIFTWATER – Alexa Weaver couldn’t’ have imagined the fate of Pleasant Valley’s season would rest on her right foot.
But the sophomore was ready if it did.
Weaver’s penalty kick sent the Bears past Pocono Mountain East 1-0 Thursday night and into the District 11 Class 4A semifinals.
The fifth-seeded Bears will face No. 8 seed Nazareth Tuesday in the semifinals. The Blue Eagles bounced top seed and previously unbeaten Parkland 2-1 in a quarterfinal contest.
Weaver moved the ball quickly down the field before going down inside the box with under 14 minutes to play in the second half.
“Honestly, I was just trying to score, obviously,” said Weaver. “I got the ball and had a huge run and was trying to score. I didn’t really see my surroundings, so it was kind of a shock to me when I got the PK.”
Weaver was more than prepared when she stepped up and delivered the decisive score to keep Pleasant Valley’s season alive.
“What was going through my head was trying not to go to the right corner, because she was a little more toward the right,” Weaver said of the Cardinals’ goalie.
“We practiced (penalty kicks) every day this week; usually I never miss. I missed probably two this whole week, and we take about three each practice. I thought I was going to make it, but you never really know.”
The Bears pressured the fourth-seeded Cardinals early, with seven shots on goal and five corners in the first half. Pleasant Valley finished with 13 shots and seven corners.
“Year in and year out, they’re resilient, this group especially,” said Bears’ head coach Derek Strohl. “Having a long layoff after our league playoffs, not quite two weeks. But we came ready to play. We had some good practices this past week, and it’s a rivalry game. We knew they were going to be up for it. It was another back and forth game with Pocono Mountain East.”
Pocono Mountain East generated more scoring chances after the intermission, including several in the final minutes.
“I thought we had a nice run there for a little while,” said Cardinals’ head coach Michael Smith. “We really came out with a lot of intensity tonight, and played an excellent game. We just couldn’t get a bounce up there. Their defense was really stingy. They’re a great defensive team.”
A key piece for the Bears all season, goalie Sam Merklin came up big again against East, finishing with seven saves, including one on Madison Kice in the final seconds of the match.
“I knew I had to come out and be aggressive, and stop the ball as much as I can,” said Merklin. “This was a great win. We really wanted it and worked hard for it.
“We’re a very aggressive team, and no matter what the circumstance is, we do what we have to do to get it done.”
Merklin also came up with another save on Kice with just under five minutes to play.
PM East goalie Isabella Horvath stopped 10 shots.
Even if they bent, the Bears were never going to break.
“I know football says it can be a game of inches, but it can be like that in soccer, too,” said Strohl. “Sammy’s been big for us all year, and nothing bigger than that save with about 18 seconds left. And she made other big saves throughout the game as well.
“We had some other chances during the game, but East’s keeper (Isabella Horvath) made some really nice saves. We just got the ball in the box, they fouled us, and we took the PK and converted.”
And Strohl never had a doubt — about Weaver or the outcome.
“She played a lot last year as a freshman for us. She has the experience,” Strohl said of Weaver. “We know what she’s capable of; we see it at practice every day. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to yell her name to take it.”
SOME HISTORY … Pleasant Valley and PM East met twice in the regular season. The teams played to a scoreless tie in the first meeting before the Bears posted a 3-0 win on Oct. 4.
MOVING ON … Thursday’s victory was a breakthrough for Strohl and the program. “It’s been a few years since we went to the district semifinals, and it’s my first time going as a coach,” he said. “We had four years in a row losing in the quarterfinals. I’m proud of this team for what they’ve done.”