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Fear can be a great motivator.
And with the Ephrata boys lacrosse team hosting arch-rival Hempfield Monday in the Section One opener, they faced the scary possibility of a third-straight loss to open the season.
They certainly didn’t want to go there, and did everything in their power to make sure it didn’t happen.
And in what may have been their best half of lacrosse in program history, The Mounts could do no wrong in the first 24 minutes, racing out to a commanding 9-0 lead after one half of play. Hempfield did come back to actually make a game of it with a seven-goal third quarter, but the damage was done as Ephrata avoided 0-3 and held on for an extremely impressive 13-9 victory.
“It’s tough to go 0-3, especially at the high school level, and not lose a lot of confidence,” Ephrata Coach Kevin Pletz said after the victory. “We wanted to come out strong against Hempfield. We’ve played them well for the last few years so that helped out with our confidence. A win like this is huge.”
Offensively, Justin Hoover scored six goals to pace Ephrata in that department while senior midfielder Koty Keefer had four goals to go along with four assists for the Mounts, who recovered from the two non-league losses over the weekend to western PA stalwarts Mt. Lebanon and Seneca Valley.
Monday night, it was definitely about that first half said Keefer.
“When you hold Hempfield to zero goals in the first half and you throw in nine…I’d say you are doing pretty well,” Keefer said. “That’s one of the best teams in the league right there. I’d say we did pretty well.”
“Against one of the best teams in the league, to go 9-0 at the half, you can’t ask for a better first half.”
Ephrata broke on top 1-0 less than four minutes into the game when junior Austin Sensenig found sophomore Ryan Holochuck alone in front of the Black Knight net for the easy score.
Sensenig then made it 2-0 when he beat Hempfield starting goalie Zach Winfield 40 seconds later. The Mounts seemed to begin to frustrate the Black Knights, who began to get in trouble with penalties. Ephrata then took advantage with Hempfield a man down when Hoover picked up a loose ball and deposited it into the net with 3:52 to go in the first to make it 3-0. Keefer then scored his first goal in the final minute, coming out from behind the net to beat Winfield.
Hoover scored 30 seconds into the second quarter to make it 5-0, and added his third goal of the half when he was fed in the slot by Keefer and ripped it into the cage with 7:53 to go in the half. The Mounts added their final three tallies of the half in man-up situations to close out their near-perfect first half.
“Our big thing is we needed to start playing as a team,” Pletz said. “The first two games we kind of played a little selfish. That first half is a perfect example of what you can do when you play as a team. Everyone was spreading the ball, and everyone was getting points. Defensively, we were working as a team, sliding as a team… It was just fun to watch.”
The Black Knights to their credit, did not go quietly and definitely made it interesting. Hempfield finally got on the board 30 seconds into the second half when Sean Valentino finally solved Ephrata goalie Justin Mease, who had six saves on the evening. That seemed to be the spark the Black Knights needed.
After Ephrata’s Colin Cammauf got that goal back to make it 10-1, Hempfield outscored Ephrata 5-0 over the next eight minutes and cut the Ephrata lead down to four goals at 10-6.
Following a time-out with 2:58 to go, Keefer got two huge goals as Ephrata seemed to right the ship, taking a 12-7 lead into the final quarter.
“Those two goals by Koty stopped their momentum and got us calmed down a little bit,” Pletz said. “They were definitely big goals.”
In the fourth, Hempfield’s Zach Ward, who led his team with six goals, scored in the first minute to cut the deficit back down to four, but the Mounts, slowed things down with the possession game, and the Black Knights could get no closer.
“Being the good team that Hempfield is, you are expecting them to get goals,” Pletz said of the Black Knights’ second-half charge. “They got a little momentum, it gave them some confidence and they started taking advantage of some of our breakdowns on defense. We made some adjustments toward the end of the third quarter to slow it down, and from then on they only got two goals. It definitely helped us that way, but we just need to take care of the ball more towards the end of the game.”
Said Keefer, “I think we got a little too excited too early. They have a high powered offense and they showed that they can score goals quick. But, I think we did a good job pulling it back together and getting a little lead there at the end. It just took us a little bit to realize that they are right back in this game, and we got to pick it up and start playing like we can play. We let off for a little bit, and they are a great team and they showed they can score quickly. But all it took was one or two goals and we were right back on track.”
Keefer then reiterated how important it was to get that first win, a league win against one of the top teams in Section One, to avoid the 0-3 start and open league play 1-0.
“It was really big,” he said. “The coaches talked, the players talked and we made a lot of adjustments coming into this game. We were focused and ready…we sure didn’t want three in the loss column this early in the season. We just put it together and really played how we knew we could play.”
Ephrata opened the season Friday night in Pittsburgh, dropping an 11-7 decision to Mt.Lebanon. Keefer led the way for the Mounts with three goals and two assists while Holochuck added a pair of goals in the loss. Mease made four saves in net for Ephrata.
The Mounts fell to 0-2 Saturday when they were on the losing end of a 7-4 decision to Seneca Valley.
Keefer (3 goals) and Holochuck (1 goal) provided the offense while Mease registered four saves.
Up next, the Mounts will be back in action Thursday afternoon at Lancaster Country Day, beginning at 4 p.m. They’ll return home Monday night (7 p.m.) for a game against Conestoga Valley.