Selinsgrove defense ready when needed

Selinsgrove’s Emily Swineford dribbles the ball past Donegal’s Lydia Miller during Tuesday’s state playoff game.

Gabby Kelly and Hannah Smullen don’t take homework onto the field.

They don’t paint their nails or braid each other’s hair during games, even though they often have the time.

They, along with fellow Selinsgrove starting defenders Rita Aucker and Kelly Wolfe, often stand idle for long stretches of games while their teammates wreak havoc on the attacking end. Depending on how the Seals’ schedule breaks, a week can pass with little opportunity for them to play the ball.

So a game such as Tuesday’s state playoff opener against Donegal, when the Seals are forced to defend the length and width of the turf, is like an overnight three-alarm fire to a volunteer company.

“It is about when you get the chance in the backfield,” said Kelly, a senior. “Over the season there are times we’ll be back there and the ball won’t come to us; we won’t touch the ball some games. So whenever you get the chance you have to make the most of it.

“We’re just waiting for the chance.”

The Class 2A tournament’s first round paired Selinsgrove against defending state champion Donegal. With only four senior starters, the Indians were younger than the 2018 championship squad led by the nation’s career goals leader, Mackenzie Allessie. However, first-year coach Amanda Janney Misselhorn — formerly head coach at Temple and Indiana — helmed a District 3 contender led by highly regarded sophomore mid Emma Miller and the strong stick of senior mid Kiera Baughman.

Donegal earned its district’s No. 9 seed, which led to a quarterfinal collision with top seed and eventual champion Palmyra. The Indians ultimately qualified for states as the District 3 fifth-place team.

Selinsgrove assistant Kara Rothermel had scouted Donegal and gave Erb an excellent read on the Indians.

“They like to use those big transfer balls to create openings,” Erb said, “so it’s a little bit of a mathematics game of where our wings step to certain spots to make it all work. We were smart in that regard.”

From the start Tuesday, the Seals stayed home while the Indians crossed the ball probing for angles. When Donegal pushed the ball upfield, the Seals stepped to the ball and walled off the circle.

“On the defensive end, it’s all a teamwork effort,” Smullen said earlier in the season. “So our forwards and links need to come back and help the defense out in order to get it cleared out of the circle and even up to our half (of the field) to score. It’s a whole team effort. It’s not just a single defender or the mids; it’s everyone coming back and clearing the ball as a team.”

The Indians didn’t earn their first corner until the 18:18 mark of the first half, and, by that time, they trailed 2-0. Not long after Smullen made a stop on the corner, Kelly blocked a challenge by Baughman in the circle. Moments later, Seals sophomore goalie Mazzie Teats turned away a drive on cage for one of her five saves.

“Confidence, for sure,” said Seals senior forward Emily Swineford. “We do a lot of (drills) at practices which focus on our defense, and that’s something we all need to do. (The backs are) just doing a fantastic job of stopping it and then bringing it up, and we all work together.”

Donegal was limited to one shot and two corners in the first half despite having a good share of possession.

“We knew that this could potentially be our last game, and I think we gave it our all,” said Kelly. “It got into their heads.”

The Indians had a few more looks in the second half — and scored thanks to terrific execution on a breakaway — but Teats was unflappable in her state playoff debut, and Selinsgrove pulled away to a 7-1 win.

“Mazzie is amazing,” said Erb. “When chips are down, she comes up big — and when you have those backs in front of you ... just a fantastic job in the backfield.”

Selinsgrove (17-3) takes an eight-game win streak into Saturday’s quarterfinal rematch with District 3 third-place Twin Valley (17-8) slated for noon at Milton Hershey H.S. The Seals dropped a 4-1 decision to the Raiders on the same field nearly a year ago to the day.

It is Selinsgrove’s fourth consecutive state quarterfinal appearance. The Seals last advanced to the state semis in 2011.

“This shows that all of our hard work that we’ve put in means something,” said Swineford. “We went in every day, working hard, not taking a day off.”

Also Saturday, two-time District 3 Class A champion Greenwood (18-1-2) plays District 1 runner-up Springfield-Montco (17-5) in a state quarterfinal with a noon start at Warwick H.S. The Wildcats blanked District 4 runner-up Bloomsburg 6-0 on Tuesday behind pairs of goals from Emma Rolston and Hailey Womer. A junior forward, Womer became the third Greenwood player this season to surpass 100 career points.

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