HERSHEY -- A six-goal Kennard-Dale lead had dwindled to two in the final minutes.
Hempfield aimed to finish off another comeback in a District 3 semifinal game that saw the lead change hands five times.
With her team trying to stop the bleeding, Rams' senior Danielle Markel needed to take control, like she had done during much of the second half.
With the ball in the net of Markel's stick with under four minutes remaining, she fired a shot past Black Knights' goalie Morgan Bare. The score proved to be a dagger to Hempfield, deflating any comeback hopes that the Knights had Tuesday night under the lights at Hershey High School.
The top-seeded Rams held on to win, 19-17, over No. 5 Hempfield (16-5) to move on to the District 3 championship game for the first time in program history. The Rams also qualify for the PIAA state tournament for the second time in program history.
"This is a game where I know my team needed me," Markel said of her final score. "It was definitely for my team no matter what. I was just so zoned in. I knew we needed every point because it was so close."
The game-sealing goal capped off an impressive second half for Markel, who notched all three of her scores after intermission. Rams' coach Kelly Wetzel said the feat was quite remarkable considering Markel had scored "six or seven goals all season."
Markel's performance came in response to a chat the coaches had with her during Monday's practice.
"We had a talk and I just knew I needed to come out and play well during games," Markel said. "I was practicing well. I just needed to bring it out in games."
Wetzel also turned to Markel, who is the only left-hander on the team, because Bare is a left-handed goalie.
"We thought with their goalie being left-handed, if she (Markel) could get some wheels to come down the middle open, she had a chance to get (goals in the) backside-top (of the net) and it worked out well," Wetzel said.
Much like Kennard-Dale's 10-8 quarterfinal victory over Exeter Township last week, Tuesday's game was another back-and-forth contest, although a bit more high-scoring.
The Rams (22-1) took an early 3-0 lead and later went up 6-3 before Hempfield scored five unanswered goals to take an 8-6 advantage. Kennard-Dale went back up 10-9 before trailing 11-10 at the half.
That's where things took a good turn for the Rams, who came out firing in the second half to take an 18-12 lead with 15 minutes, 10 seconds remaining. But Hempfield pulled back to within 18-16 with 6:08 left before Markel's final score.
"We had a six-goal lead and a lot of times we let up and we lose that lead," Kennard-Dale senior Nicole Black said. "That's what happened and we just had to keep our composure."
Black (four goals, two assists) had multiple goals along with Markel, Morgan Day (six goals) and Haley Romoser (four goals, assist). Rams' goalie Alaña Pietra made six stops.
Championship: Kennard-Dale will now have to prepare for No. 7 Manheim Township (19-4), which defeated No. 6 Penn Manor, 22-11, on Tuesday. The Blue Streaks have won all four district girls' lacrosse titles since the tournament first began in 2009.
"You have to win the ground balls, you can't make mistakes," Wetzel said on how to beat Manheim Township. "Play smart and stall for 60 minutes, I guess. They're a very good team. Three of their four losses are to Philly teams. The other loss is to Penn Manor early in the season."
The Rams will face the Blue Streaks in the district title game on Thursday at Hersheypark Stadium at 5 p.m.
-- Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.