EMIGSVILLE — With perennial girls' lacrosse powers Kennard-Dale and York Catholic formerly in their division, it's been nearly impossible for Susquehannock to make the York-Adams League playoffs.
After all, only two teams from each division qualified, leaving the Warriors on the outside looking in since the league tournament's inception.
But with this year's alignment shift to just a single division, there was a newfound opportunity for the Warriors to crack the four-team tournament. And there was no way anyone was stopping them from taking advantage of it.
Susquehannock, coming off a second-place finish behind K-D in the regular-season league standings, squared off against the Irish in the league playoff semifinals at Central York High School Tuesday night. Led by a trio of seniors, the Warriors had to survive a late comeback from York Catholic before pulling out a 14-13 victory.
Susky will face rival K-D, an 18-4 winner over West York in the other semifinal, in Thursday's championship. That contest will be played on Susquehannock's home turf at 5:30 p.m.
"We've been looking forward to this for so long," said Warrior goalie Amber Orner, one of the team's three seniors. "This is what we've been waiting for our whole season."
With a chance to take on the Rams one more time, Orner and company were entirely focused on making that happen.
"This was the biggest game of my entire life," she said. "This game meant so much to us. We knew that we had to win this."
It didn't start out great for the Warriors. The Irish stormed ahead early. Shannon Moore (six goals) scored half of her total en route to a 4-1 advantage.
That didn't last too long. The senior duo of Ashley Valway (two goals, four assists) and Katelyn Welch (six goals, one assist) rallied the Warriors. Valway found Welch late in the first half to even the score at 6-6. That tally was just part of a 5-0 run by Susky, which took an 8-6 lead into the break.
Most of those goals came off the stick of Welch. Orner credits Welch for preparing her as a goalie during one-on-one shooting drills after practices.
"She is one of the best shooters that I've ever played with," Orner said. "Her shots after practice are so good and they've just helped me so much. She puts them where she knows that I need to work on."
After the Irish drew within 8-7 early in the second half, the Warriors went on a 6-1 run to go up 14-8 with 9:27 left.
York Catholic makes run: The defending tournament champs, however, refused to go down without a fight. A run of five straight goals over the final nine-plus minutes drew them within a goal with just 5.4 seconds left on the clock. Part of that run was aided by a yellow card to Warrior faceoff specialist Gena Speights that kept her off the field down the stretch.
"With her not being able to take draws ... we have other people, but they don't get a lot of work," Warrior coach Steve Marshner said. "Gena gets most of the work. But she got a yellow card for ... let's say expressing her feelings about a call to the ref. I don't think she'll do that again."
Welch, however, came up big when needed the most. She controlled the final faceoff, which allowed her team to run out the clock.
"I was so nervous," Orner said. "It was so ... I can't even describe it. It was just really nerve-racking."
It became that way for Marshner, too. It picked up considerably after the Irish drew to within 14-12 with 20 seconds left.
"At the minute mark I thought we had enough of a lead," he said. "But then when it got down to (14-12) 20 seconds, I was like, 'oh, no, this ain't good.' And with Gena on the sidelines and not being able to take draws ... she's our key at the draw."
Now the Warriors can savor their first-ever York-Adams League playoff victory for a night. But it will be back to work Wednesday to prepare for a highly-gifted K-D outfit.
"To come away with a win was huge for where we think we are," Marshner said. "But now we get another opportunity. It's the opportunity that we want and we've been waiting since that loss that we took (back on April 2, by an 11-6 margin)."
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.