RED LION – It was bound to happen someday.
Fortunately for the Central York field hockey team, that "someday" turned out to be Saturday afternoon at Red Lion High School.
Playing in the program’s third York-Adams League championship game, the Division I champion Panthers were looking to claim the school’s first-ever league crown.
The CY girls were also seeking to put last year’s collapse against Bermudian Springs, the same team they drew in this year’s title game, behind them. Back then, the Eagles stormed back from a late 2-0 deficit to claim an improbable victory in overtime.
The defending Y-A champs broke a scoreless tie late in the first half on a goal by standout Skyler West. Much like the Eagles did in last year’s title game, the Panthers responded mere seconds later on a somewhat controversial tally when Grace Harrold’s shot found the cage.
Just past the midway point of the second half, Central was able to go ahead when Abby Lamison found the cage at the 12:36 mark. Then, with just more than three minutes left, Victoria Whitehead scored to give the Panthers a two-goal cushion.
Knowing that no lead is safe against a team as skilled and talented as the Division III champs, the CY girls refused to give the Eagles a chance to make magic happen once again. Instead, as the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Panthers began to celebrate a historic 3-1 triumph.
“This is great,” CY senior Katie Diehl said. “We came back strong.”
Big win for young Central team: Diehl and Lamison, who are the only two senior starters for CY, will never forget last year’s disappointment. Saturday’s victory will, however, allow them to graduate this spring with a much more pleasant memory of their high school careers, especially since neither of them figured to be playing in the finals before the season began.
With a handful of senior starters graduating last year, the Panthers had a number of holes in their lineup to fill with younger and less experienced players. Playing in a very competitive Division I against teams such as Dallastown and Red Lion, a playoff berth was far from certain.
“I’ll be honest ….I did not think that we would even make it this far,” Diehl said. “But we all worked together amazingly. No matter what happened, we just bounced back from it.”
Controversial goal: Such was the case after West, who scored the game-winner in last year’s contest, scored off a penalty corner with 9:05 left in the first half. The Panthers responded by marching down the field before Harrold scored the equalizer with 8:33 left on the clock.
Harrold’s goal, however, drew the ire of Bermudian coach Neil Bixler. Bixler felt confident that Harrold’s shot was outside of the circle and therefore should have been disallowed.
It didn’t help matters that the official on that side of the field took some time before signaling a good goal.
“It was definitely outside of the circle,” Bixler said. “We could clearly see it and my players saw it. We didn’t really defend it because it was about two yards past the line. There are two lines there, the blue and the red, which is the field hockey line, and the ball was on the blue line. But it is what it is.”
Harrold’s goal certainly appeared to take the air out of the Eagles. And the Berm coach wouldn’t dispute that.
“It definitely changed the momentum of the game,” he said.
Breaking the deadlock: The contest remained deadlocked into the second half until the Panthers' quickness took over. The CY girls were able to force errant passes from the Berm players at times, which created turnovers. That extra control allowed the Panthers to tilt the field to their advantage.
The added pressure finally did the Eagles in when Lamison was able to swat a shot past Berm goalie Isabella Bobe.
“I was just so happy,” Lamison said. “I just couldn’t stop jumping up and down. That (goal) put us ahead and it was unbelievable.”
Whitehead, who is one of the leading goal scorers on the CY roster, gave her team some extra insurance when she corralled a deflection off the stick of a teammate in the box before turning and slamming a shot into the cage with 3:10 left on the clock.
Getting refocused: After a lot of celebration, the CY girls regrouped to reset their mental approach. It was only a year ago that a 2-0 advantage with five minutes left disappeared.
“We had to go back to that 0-0 mindset,” Lamison said. “I think that last year we maybe got a bit too cocky and thought we had it in the bag and they caught us off-guard. (This time) we just knew we had to keep it up, make good passes and play good defense.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.