For 40 minutes, Hershey High kept the prolific scoring tandem of Igor Gomes and Pierrce Miller bottled up.
But the dynamic duo each found the back of the net in the second half to give Central York a 2-1 victory in a District 3-AAA boys' soccer semifinal Tuesday night at Northeastern High School. The victory sends the No. 4 seed Panthers (22-2) to the District 3 championship for the first time in school history.
Central, which had been ousted the last two years in the semifinals, will face Lower Dauphin, a 5-3 penalty kick winner over Cumberland Valley on Tuesday, in the finals at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium. It was Lower Dauphin that stunned the then-No. 1 seeded Panthers last year on penalty kicks in the semifinals.
"This is what our goal has been all season" said senior midfielder Jared Hileman, one of eight senior starters for Central. "I think we were rushing things in the first half tonight, but in the second half we just calmed down and played our game."
Neither team had many threats in the first half. In fact, the Panthers didn't have a shot on goal. But that changed in the second half.
Gomes, the York-Adams Player of the Year, got free in Hershey territory and sent a beautiful pass to Miller, who was flying down the left side. Miller, who netted the game-winner on Saturday in the quarterfinals against Conestoga Valley, got enough leg on his shot to send it past Hershey goalie Alec Morgret at the 30 minute, 25-second mark of the second half.
"I think we were a little tentative to start the game, but once we were able to get the ball on the ground and spread them out a little bit, we were OK," Central coach Frank Lenno said. "We do have a lot of seniors on this team and they're not going to get flustered. They know it's going to take 80-plus minutes to win a game like this, and they did."
The Panthers' eventual game-winning goal came at the 10:59 mark when Gomes scored on an assist from Miller.
"That first half was a little bumpy, but I think we eventually tired them out a little bit," Miller said.
However, the game wasn't over. Hershey mounted its most serious threat of the night three minutes later when the Panthers inadvertently knocked the ball into their own net. Hershey's Ryan LaCoe was the last Trojan player to touch it before it went into the net.
But Central managed to keep Hershey out of the net the rest of the way to reach the championship.
"They're a very good team," Lenno said of Hershey. "They are athletic and can really defend."
No. 3 seed Lower Dauphin enters Saturday's title contest at 20-1-1. Lower Dauphin and No. 2 seed Cumberland Valley (17-3-1) battled to a scoreless draw on Tuesday before being forced into penalty kicks.
No. 17 seed Hershey dropped to 15-6-1.
All four semifinal teams have already clinched PIAA AAA state playoff berths.
— Reach George Hammond at email@example.com.