EAST ROCKHILL >> Change has been good for the Pennridge boys’ soccer program.
After dropping back-to-back games against CB East and CB West earlier this month, the Rams took a step back and asked themselves where they were, where they wanted to be and what they would have to do to get there. A couple changes later, and a switch from SOL Colonial foes to SOL Patriot opponents in the crossover part of the schedule helped get things back on track.
Pennridge kept its roll going Thursday night, beating Council Rock North 3-1 in a clash of division leaders for its fifth straight win.
“We’ve settled into ourselves,” Rams senior defender and co-captain Shane Velez said. “The first few games, we got ahead of ourselves and tried to go 100 percent the entire time. Now, we’ve really learned each other’s tendencies and it’s made it a lot easier for us.”
Velez, the UMass recruit and All-American nominee, was part of the team’s changes after those two losses. The senior, who played on the back line since his freshman year, started the season at forward and was producing goals. However, things just weren’t meshing right and Rams (8-2-0, 7-2-0 SOL) coach Pete Valimont opted to move his co-captain back to center back.
The result was four straight shutouts and 78 more minutes Thursday before Rock North (6-2-2, 5-2-2 SOL) knocked one in late. In crossover play, Pennridge has out-scored its SOL Patriot opponents 21-0 with two more games against the other division to go next week.
“We’ve solidified the chemistry among the team,” senior co-captain Tommy McKinney, the other center back, said. “We’re capitalizing on each other’s strengths and building on what we see as the weaknesses.”
McKinney had an extremely center back night, scoring the team’s first goal six minutes in off a scramble in the box created by a corner kick and finishing the game with a gnarly cut on the bridge of his nose showing under a couple suture strips. Overall, it was a productive night off restarts for the Rams, who got two goals off corners and their third in the ensuing fracas following a long throw-in.
It’s not that the game was one-sided either. The Indians, who had a narrow lead in the Patriot table at the start of the day Thursday, played with great energy and pace, threatening on quite a few occasions. They may have gone to the half tied if not for a terrific diving save by Pennridge senior keeper CJ Dimmick on a quick, close-range shot by Mike Brusca.
“We’ve really focused on defensive shape,” Velez said. “We wanted to make sure when one steps, another one drops and I think in our practices how much we emphasized our defensive shape and how much we implemented in practice is what helped us the most.”
The second half played out a lot like the first, minus the early Rams goal, with both teams having some good runs and chances. Just past the midpoint of the half, Pennridge earned yet another corner kick and again found a way to make the most of it.
A near post service found Troy Thanel, who had a nice finish from close range to double the lead at 2-0.
Not even two minutes later, a Rams throw deep in the CR North end led to a mis-hit clearing attempt by an Indians defender that only got as far as Jared Hess. From the top of the box, the Pennridge co-captain unleashed a screamer of a shot that thumped in the top shelf, billowing out the back of the net.
“I think it was our intensity,” McKinney said. “In the first half, it started to wear down, the wind was definitely a factor but second half, we came out strong with the wind at our backs.”
“It’s a chance for us to grow. We struggled at times early on but as we’ve progressed, each day is a chance to build on the next practice or the next game.”
Pennridge ended the night where it started, in a tie for the SOL Colonial lead with CB East although the party shrank with CB South falling to Bensalem earlier in the day.
As well as they’ve been playing of late, the Rams still see even more room for improvement. Velez noted the team is still playing a little too direct at times and he wants to use the midfield more going forward and McKinney added there’s no complacency among the players or coaches.
If anything, the team has already shown it’s adaptable by making some changes after a rough patch and pulling result after result ever since. They won’t be back on the pitch for a game until Sept. 28, but that doesn’t mean that time won’t be used productively.
“We’ve got this time to recover,” Velez said. “It’s a long season, a lot of games back-to-back so this is a good chance to get our legs back.”
PENNRIDGE 1 2 – 3
COUNCIL ROCK NORTH 0 1 – 1
Goals: P – Tommy McKinney, Troy Thanel, Jared Hess; CRN – Tanmay Ondkar