MECHANICSBURG — With a storied program, such as the Kennard-Dale girls' lacrosse team, it's rare to find an instance like the one that arose during Wednesday's PIAA first-round state tournament game at Cumberland Valley.
Trailing Pine-Richland 7-4 at halftime, Rams head coach Kelly Wetzel and his staff laid into the team, using a fiery speech at intermission to wake up his players and get them to snap out of their lethargic state. While not going into too many details about what was said, the halftime message appeared to make an impact. K-D dominated the second half, outscoring the western-Pennsylvania Rams 8-2 in the second frame en route to a 12-9 victory, which advanced K-D to Saturday's state quarterfinals.
"We pretty much reamed out the girls," Wetzel said about the Rams' halftime adjustments. "They were not playing like they were capable of and they weren't hustling and even they would admit that. It was a little warm, it kind of took them off guard. End of the school year, seniors looking forward to being out, it's a culmination of things, but they were very flat in the first half and they picked it up in the second."
After the two sides traded goals to begin the final half, K-D took over the game. Trailing 8-5, the Rams went on a 5-0 run to turn the three-goal deficit into a two-goal cushion, one that it would only pad the rest of the way.
The keys to K-D's second-half surge were solving P-R goalie Abby Levier and an offensive outburst from Maddie Day.
Levier was the prime reason that P-R was even in the lead after the first half, coming up with 11 saves in the opening 25 minutes. However, the Rams found the secret to solving Levier in the second half, constantly shooting high on her and making her final 25 minutes a nightmare.
"She played well," Wetzel said of Levier's 17-save performance. "I can't take anything away from her, but our shooting was atrocious. A lot of the saves, she didn't even have to move her stick or her body because they were hitting one of the two."
Along with that came the emergence of Day, who scored four of her five goals in the second half to pace the attack and add a consistent scoring presence after four different players accounted for K-D's four first-half goals.
The game got off to a promising start for the Rams when Hannah Bracey scored just 29 seconds into the contest to give the District 3 champions a quick 1-0 lead. However, P-R responded with a 4-0 run of its own over the next five minutes to open up a 4-1 lead. K-D answered well, eventually tying the game at 4-4 with goals from Morgan Bowings, Megan Halczuk and Day before P-R, the third-place team from District 7, finished the half on a 3-0 run. Levler had two huge saves in the final 10 seconds to preserve that margin.
Day led all scorers in the contest with five goals, while Gillian Zimmerman and Bracey each added two for K-D. Bowings, Halczuk and Emmie Dressel finished with one goal each. Bowings and Claire Gamache each had two assists, while Halczuk also had one. In goal, sophomore Clare Boone finished with eight saves, making five of them in the second half.
The victory was just the second state tournament win for K-D in program history and now has it in the Elite Eight portion of the tournament on Saturday. Wednesday's victory also improved the Rams to 23-1 on the year, tying the program record for wins in a season. K-D will face Conestoga next, a team that entered the state tournament as the fifth seed out of District 1, but began the year 18-0, which included a 16-11 win over District 3 power Manheim Township earlier in the year, before losing to Radnor early in the District 1 tournament. Conestoga beat District 12 champion Archbishop Carroll on Wednesday, 15-9.
"Conestoga got upset in the Philly league," Wetzel said of his team's next opponent. "They were undefeated going into it. They're the real deal. I think they used that loss as a way to motivate themselves the rest of their season. A (ticked) off Conestoga team isn't exactly a good thing. We're going to have to play well to be competitive. We'll see what happens coming out of it."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com