NEFFSVILLE — One of the beautiful things about soccer is that any given shot can ultimately determine the game's fate.
Of course, it's only great if you're on the right end of one of those winners. If you're on the losing end, it will leave you with your head buried in your hands.
Time and time again on Tuesday night at Manheim Township High School in a District 3 Class 4-A boys' soccer semifinal, the Central York team gave itself every opportunity to score a winning goal. Time and time again, however, the Panthers were turned away by Elizabethtown keeper Austin Denlinger.
He kept Central off the board through the opening half. Then again in the second half. Then once more in the first extra time period. Before the Panthers could begin their barrage of attempts in the second extra period, heartbreak struck them.
Elizabethtown capitalized on one of its few good chances of the game when Adan Cabrera-Perez slotted home the winner in the 99th minute after being fed a nice through ball from Jonathan Gartley. That earned the Bears the shocking 1-0 victory and put them into Saturday's District 3 4-A championship game. Central York (19-4-1), meanwhile, is relegated into the third-place game and was left in disbelief.
"I thought we dominated pretty much the whole game," Panthers' head coach Frank Lenno said. "But, we left them in it. We had multiple chances on goal. Their keeper did a fabulous job. (Elizabethtown) fought and fought and ... won it at the end. Hats off to them."
Missed opportunities: Much of the seventh-seeded Panthers' attacking play went through the duo of midfielder Carter Luckenbaugh and forward Pierrce Miller. Whether it was predictable or not, the 11th-seeded Bears (19-3-1) didn't have an answer for the two defensively, relying heavily on Denlinger to come up with timely saves.
"They've been doing that all year long," Lenno said. "It's just unfortunate that we held possession, had many chances on goal and weren't able to bury one."
Central York owned a 14-9 advantage in shots on goal, a 12-0 advantage in corner kicks and it was even more one-sided in total shot attempts. Yet, anytime a ball found its way on target, there was always an Elizabethtown player there to prevent it from going in the goal.
If there was any moment early in the game that would foreshadow the difficulties that the Panthers were going to have, it came in the 20th minute. Off a fantastic cross by Luckenbaugh, Miller sat on the back post and, as the ball eluded the numerous other attackers and forwards in front of him, the ball found his head. He headed it into the ground and watched the ball bounce toward the goal, only to have it cleared off the line by a sliding Bears defender.
That was only the beginning of Central's nightmare.
In the 36th minute, it was Luckenbaugh's turn to see a sure goal disappear. As he attacked down the middle, his shot from the top of the 18-yard box took a deflection off an Elizabethtown defender and was destined to find the far side of the goal. Only, Denlinger laid out to his left and snatched the ball out of midair. The Elizabethtown goalie was the main reason the Bears went into the halftime break still level.
It was much of the same for Miller and Luckenbaugh in the second half, generating chance after chance, but to no avail. In the 61st minute, it finally seemed like Miller had Denlinger completely fooled on a shot, ripping a ball from 20 yards out, leaving Denlinger praying that the ball would sail wide — which it did.
With the 80 minutes of regulation gone without a goal, the two sides went to extra time. In the 88th minute, the Panthers had a another possible goal cleared off the line. Miller then drilled a low ball across the face of goal, only to have it elude Luckenbaugh's sliding attempt to bury it.
Again, the game stayed scoreless through 95 minutes of play.
All of the missed opportunities by Central gave the Bears a glimmer of hope, which they took advantage of. The Bears earn the program's first-ever berth in a district championship game. They also earned a berth in states.
In the end, Denlinger made 14 saves, while Panthers' keeper Kameron Stoll stopped eight.
Up next: Central will face Cumberland Valley in Saturday's third-place game at 5 p.m. at Northeastern, with the winner earning the final District 3 bid into the PIAA state tournament, which the Panthers have made three years running.
Despite the dejected look on his players' faces following the stunning defeat, Lenno doesn't think he'll need to get his team's spirits up in time for its next match.
"I don't think I'll need to tell them anything. I just think they need to remember what this is like," he said. "We've been in all kinds of situations the last four years. ... Last year, we lost in penalty kicks in the final. So these guys know what it's like and know what it takes. But, we did not finish a chance off and that's it."
Biglerville 3, Lancaster Mennonite 2: At Manchester, the second-seeded Canners advanced to the District 3 Class 2-A title game with a semifinal triumph over third-seeded Lancaster Mennonite. Jared Dotsen-Jones had two goals for Biglerville (18-3), while Bryan Diaz had one. The Canners will now face top-seeded Tulpehocken (21-1) in the district final at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium. Tulpehocken won its semifinal over fifth-seeded Oley Valley, 4-2. Oley Valley finished 16-6, while Mennonite finished 16-3-2. Both Biglerville and Tulpehocken have secured berths in the PIAA state playoffs.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com