Lady Eagles edge Cumberland ValleyGain first-ever trip to finals
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Cocalico felt right at home Tuesday night vs. Cumberland Valley in the waning moments of the District Three girls lacrosse semifinals at Lower Dauphin. That’s because for the fourth-straight game, the Lady Eagles and their opponent were going down to the wire.
So, clinging to a one-goal lead in the final minute, Cocalico played with extreme poise. First, the Lady Eagles got a big save at one end from first-year starting goalie Alli Stauffer. Then with possession, Cocalico went four corners in the offensive end and salted this one away, earning a spot in Thursday’s District Three finals with an exciting 13-12 victory.
"Another cardiac arrest," Cocalico Coach Mary Beth Cardin said, describing the wild finish.
With the win, the Lady Eagles (17-3) advanced to their first-ever District final game where they’ll face L-L champion Manheim Township– a 15-6 winner over Penn Manor– Thursday at 5 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium. In addition, Cocalico clinched a berth in the upcoming State playoffs, which begin next Wednesday.
"This was definitely something that was a goal of our team because we had never gotten past the second round of Districts," Cardin said following the win. "For us to get to the championship round and then get an automatic bid into States is a big thing for us."
Senior Haley Mitchell, who led the way with four goals and two assists Tuesday, said her team’s perseverance has finally paid off.
"We had a lot riding on this game," she said. "For what our team was last year to what it was this year, and how we improved and how we stuck together is just amazing… I could not be more proud of our team. When we were down, when times were hard, we just kept going and we didn’t give up."
That was the theme Tuesday as Cocalico quickly found itself in a 2-0 hole early. To make matters worse, the Lady Eagles were whistled for three quick yellow cards and played as many as two players down for a good portion of the contest.
However, Cocalico responded and actually took a one-goal lead (7-6) into the half on Kayli Lescoe’s goal with 3.9 seconds left on the clock off a free position stoppage.
"Our girls dug deep and a couple wings were getting back a lot quicker than they would have had they not been down a couple players," Cardin said of her team’s adjustments to playing short-handed. "Sometimes it’s easy after you do your job to jog back up the field but they couldn’t because they’d leave their goalie two-men short and two men wide-open. They really came together as a team and it took a team to win this kind of game knowing the fact that you are down two men a lot of the time."
The game featured four lead changes in the first half, and it took a similar theme in the second. After Cumberland Valley (17-4) struck first early in the second half on a goal by Emily Brunie to tie the game at 7-7, Cocalico opened up a two-goal advantage off separate unassisted tallies by junior Avery Longstaff (2 goals) and senior Brooke North (3 goals) to make it 9-7.
But CV responded with another two quick goals to tie it at 9-9. Beth Pirtle set up both scores, one by Em Breakey (3 goals) and the other by Catlin Rhoades (2 goals) with 15 minutes to go.
It was at that point that Cocalico gained the advantage that paved the way to victory. The Lady Eagles went on a quick 3-0 spurt to open up a 12-9 advantage with 12:22 to play. After a yellow card by Breakey, Kari Longstaff quickly went the other way, scoring on an unassisted play. Mitchell then followed with two quick goals to give Cocalico the little momentum it needed.
"I just felt like this is my last shot and I don’t want this to be my last game," Mitchell said of her six-point night. "I was just going to bust my butt all over the field, and I know my teammates did the same."
What that mini-spurt did was allow Cocalico to take a more conservative offensive approach to drain time off the clock down the stretch.
"That was the game right there," Cardin said. "They knew they had to get that cushion to play that stall tactic because you can’t play that way in a one-goal game. That was huge. That was probably the biggest momentum switch in the game."
But CV had no intentions of going away quietly. Breakey scored with 10:15 to play to get her team to within two at 12-10, before Lescoe (2 goals) and CV’s Rhoades traded scores to make it 13-11 with 7:26 left on the clock.
Then after the Lady Eagles went into stall mode, CV used a turnover to get to within one. Breakey won a ground ball and got it to Alexa Mandak (3 goals), who went down the field and beat Stauffer to make it 13-12 with 2:08 left.
That set the stage for Stauffer’s biggest save of the night with 1:49 to go. After winning the ensuing faceoff, CV moved into the slot and forced a free position stoppage. On the restart, Rhoades fired a shot from point-blank range that Stauffer somehow deflected wide to help her team maintain the lead.
"That was the biggest save she made and she had a couple," Cardin said. "She came up clutch. This is her first year playing in goal so for her that is huge."
Mitchell, who as the backstop helped the Cocalico field hockey team advance to the State finals this past fall, was sure she’d stop it.
"I was praying in my head, ‘you got this,’" she said. "She’s my little sister in lacrosse. She’s my defender in hockey and now I’m hers in lacrosse. This is the first year she’s played (in goal) and she has been amazing. I can’t be more proud of her."
Following the save, Cocalico ran the final 1:49 off the clock and it was time to celebrate.
"I didn’t imagine my senior year to go this way," Mitchell said of now being part of a second State-qualifying team this year. "I mean I had hoped it would go this way but never in my dreams could I have imagined it would go this way. To go to States (in lacrosse) is just incredible."
Cocalico advanced to Tuesday’s semifinals after earning a dramatic 14-13 victory over second-seeded Kennard-Dale (17-2) Saturday at Cumberland Valley.
The Lady Eagles used a late three-goal run to edge out the Rams. Lescoe led the way with four goals while both Mitchell and Kari Longstaff each added three scores apiece.
Stauffer made six saves on the afternoon in the win. More FINALS, page B-3