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Northwestern clinches CL playoff berth

Northwestern needed a win Tuesday night at Northern Lehigh to clinch a spot in the Colonial League playoffs.

They made the trip to Slatington determined to get what they needed, and made the trip back making plans to compete in the league playoffs, which begin Saturday.

The win they needed came in the form of a 3-1 victory against the Bulldogs.

The Tigers (10-7-1 overall, 9-6-1 Colonial) handled Northern Lehigh well early in the contest, but were not able to get a goal to grab an edge in the game. Finally, with 2:13 left in the first quarter, Brynn Balliet pushed a shot through a gaggle of players directly in front of the goal and Northwestern had a lead.

The focus shifted to looking for a little breathing room, and it was Brooke Page who gave them a two-goal advantage when she took a pass from Ella Dangello on an offensive corner and put it past goalkeeper Kendall Heiney to go up 2-0.

“I got the ball and had an open lane, so I took a drive and was able to get it in through an opening that I saw,” said Page. “We have a bunch of different corners, and this specific play was a pass over and then a shot and it worked.”

If having a two-goal advantage is good, a three-goal advantage would be better. In the third quarter, Daniella Lister was able to find the back of the goal to give Northwestern a commanding lead. The insurance policy paid off when Northern Lehigh’s Aricka Creyer scored off a corner to cut the Tigers lead to 3-1.

The Northwestern defense went back to work and didn’t allow the Bulldogs to get anything close to resembling a shot on goal over the rest of the game to lock up both the win, and the sixth seed in the Colonial League playoffs.

“Our offense is set up to spread the ball around, and the girls have done a good job of getting themselves into good positions on the field so when they take a pass, they’re in a spot where they can do something,” said coach Lissa Opolsky. “We don’t have just one scorer to go to, and they’ve really done a good job of spreading the opportunities around.”

Northwestern finished the season winning four of its last five games, with the only blemish coming against Southern Lehigh (16-0-0, 15-0-0), who has just its season finale against Salisbury (5-11, 4-10) standing between it and an undefeated regular season.

“We’ve improved a lot over the season, and we’ve worked hard and have all grown together as the season went on,” Page said. “We’re as prepared as we can be for the postseason, and we’re pretty excited.”

UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY ... Normally, Northwestern is near the top of the league and district standings. They locked up a district playoff spot Monday night with a win over Catasauqua, and it took until the final regular season game to put itself officially into the Colonial League postseason field. Last season, the Tigers were seeded third in the league, and won their first Colonial League Championship since 2003. Their fifth seed in districts will be the lowest seeding for the two-time defending Class 1A champions since 2018, when they were seeded seventh.

STRONG AS EVER ... While many schools across the area are experiencing lower numbers of student-athletes participating in sports, Northwestern is still running strong. The lower numbers at other schools still affect them because there aren’t as many JV and middle school teams to compete against. On Tuesday, Northwestern loaned a couple of players to Northern Lehigh so they could field a team to play in the JV game between the two schools.

Northwestern's Cara Thomas (on the ground) tries to poke the ball into the Northern Lehigh goal. CHUCK HIXSON/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS