When the final horn sounded, the smiles on Susquehannock High School's sideline told the story — but not before the Lady Warriors took time for a huge sigh of relief.
Although it never trailed, No. 2 seed Susquehannock couldn't shake No. 7 Cumberland Valley and had to hold on for a thrilling 11-10 victory Thursday in District 3 girls' lacrosse quarterfinal action at Central York High School. The victory sends the Lady Warriors (18-2) into Tuesday's semifinal against No. 3 Hempfield, a 14-12 winner over No. 6 Exeter on Thursday. The semifinal is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at Hershey High School. Hempfield is 17-3.
"I am so pleased," Warriors' coach Steve Marshner said. "We've been fighting adversity with all the injuries (two starters were out against CV) and we could have folded at any time because they put a lot of pressure on us. I like any win, but this one is really special because this is the first time the girls' program has ever gone to the final four."
Quarterbacking the Warriors was senior Ashley Valway, who had three goals and four assists, including a beautiful assist on the game-winning goal by Rachel Marshner with 3:25 remaining.
"We've never made it this far," Valway said. "Last year, we got destroyed by Manheim Township in the second round, so this was really a big accomplishment. We were just trying to hold on to the ball at the end because we figured if they don't have it they can't score."
The contest looked like a rout early on, when the Lady Warriors jumped out to a 5-1 advantage just 8:55 into the first half.
Later in the opening 25 minutes, that lead would be 7-3 after sophomore Gena Speights scored her third goal in a span of six minutes.
From there, however, play tightened considerably. CV, the Mid-Penn Conference champion, scored the last two goals of the first half to make it 7-5 at intermission. Then, in the second half, the scoring sequence was as follows: 7-6, 8-6, 8-7, 9-7, 9-8, 10-8, 10-9, 11-9 and 11-10.
Katie Bialas' free-position shot with 1:15 remaining made it 11-10, but Susquehannock was able to play keepaway in the final 75 seconds. Marshner's goal at 3:25 was key, because CV was swarming at that point. The Eagles (16-5) actually outshot Susquehannock 23-19.
"We will sometimes use Rachel as a midfielder (she's normally a defender), but she's been sick, so we decided to keep her on defense the entire time," Steve Marshner said, "but when the clear happened, we called a play where she goes forward, and the one time she was up there, she took advantage of it and made it work. Plus, Ashley made a fantastic feed on that one."
For CV coach Lilli Kane, the slow start was pivotal.
"I think if we would have started out with the intensity we had in the second half, we would have been OK," Kane said. "But I'm pleased with our effort, our girls didn't give up and we almost pulled it out."
In addition to Valway, Speights and Marshner, other goal scorers for Susquehannock were Morgan LeBlanc, Katie LeBlanc, Maddie Ellis and Kayla Held. Goalie Amber Orner had nine saves for the Lady Warriors.
"To CV's credit, they were really forcing us to do things outside of our offense, especially in the second half, but we scored enough to get it done," Coach Marshner said.
— Reach George Hammond at email@example.com.