Ephrata beats MC 3-1 to grab inside track on second
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Given their history this season, Ephrata easily could have panicked.
Their one-goal lead against Manheim Central, in a game with playoff implications, had just evaporated and there wasn’t much room for error.
"Usually we panic when it gets tied up," Ephrata junior forward Moriah Pfautz said, " and that’s why we gathered at the top of the circle. It really calms us down."
On Monday, the Lady Mounts kept their composure and got two goals in the final 17 minutes from Pfautz, both on assists from junior Mackenzie Ruth, to snap a 1-1 tie and defeat rival Manheim Central 3-1 in a key Section Two showdown at Manheim’s Elden Rettew Field. That also completed a hat trick for Pfautz, who increased her season total to a team-leading 20 goals.
With the victory, Ephrata (9-4 L-L, 9-7 overall) took a one-game lead on the Lady Barons (8-5 L-L, 10-7 overall) for sole possession of second place heading into its final regular season game on Wednesday against Lebanon, where they will be a heavy favorite. The top three finishers in Section Two advance to the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs.
"Our goal was to get the Section (title), but still being second is pretty cool because last year we were nothing close to this," Ruth said. "And I like how we had to play for it and we didn’t just have to depend on Cocalico."
Section Two champion Cocalico (13-0-0) was Manheim Central’s opponent in its regular-season finale, also on Wednesday, and the Lady Barons entered that game in a three-team dogfight for one playoff berth. Lampeter-Strasburg (7-5-1), which tied Garden Spot 0-0 on Monday, and Cedar Crest (7-5 L-L), a 4-1 winner over Solanco, are also in the mix. L-S plays at Cedar Crest on Wednesday.
"Really right now, because everyone’s very talented in the Section, it will depend on who wins today and who wins Wednesday," Manheim Central coach Sam Shober said. "Worst-case scenario, Wednesday’s it. I’m very much hoping to make Leagues and Districts, and the fact that we’re a Double-A team helps us because we play all Triple-A teams (in Section Two). So we kinda have to wait and see. We only lost to Cocalico 2-1 the last time we played them, so we definitely have a chance to add another tally to the win column and then we’d solidify our chances a little bit. But like I said, we have to wait and see what other people do."
Ephrata, meanwhile, only has to worry about themselves. And both the Lady Mounts and Manheim Central pointed to the same chain of events in Monday’s battle as the turning point which led to Ephrata being the team that grabbed control of its own fate.
With the score tied 1-1 midway through the second half, Manheim Central’s Paige Daniel blasted a shot from just outside of the circle on a penalty corner which found the back of the net. The officials, though, ruled that it never touched an MC player’s stick inside the circle and waved off the goal. Then on the restart, the Ephrata girls countered with Pfautz quickly moving the ball down the field. Pfautz dished the ball off to Ruth, who got the assist when Pfautz finished with 16:52 left for the go-ahead tally.
"I have an awful lot of speed on the front line and that pays off on that quick transition game," Ephrata coach Rhoda Mountz said. "Moriah Pfautz has stick skills. I keep telling her, ‘Moriah, you can walk the ball into the goal cage,’ and she always seems to just collide with the goalkeeper. Tonight, she finished it off the right way."
"I’ve kinda gotten the hang of it now," Pfautz smiled. "It’s just ball control and knowing where the goalie is and anticipating what she’s going to do."
Shober, however, questioned not only the ruling on the disallowed goal, but the restart which led to Ephrata’s go-ahead tally.
"My eyes, and few other people’s eyes, saw that there was a tip, and when there’s a tip in the circle, it’s a goal, no matter the type," Shober said. "So that was a frustrating momentum change for the game. (The officials) didn’t call the time (in) sufficiently enough and they scored and it completely changed the momentum. That would have either been a 2-2 game, or maybe even still 2-1 us. So that was frustrating and definitely the game-changer."
Earlier, Ephrata had the better of play in the opening 30 minutes, with a 6-4 edge in shots and the game’s only three penalty corners. MC keeper Corissa Landis turned away five of those to help keep it close.
For the Lady Barons, they are still looking to put things together for a complete game.
"We’ve had issues playing the entire 60 minutes," Shober said. "Sometimes the breakdown is in the first half, sometimes it’s in the second and sometimes it’s at the beginning of both halves. Our issue has been playing the entire 60 minutes with random breakdowns."
Ephrata threatened when senior Rachel Stauffer was denied on a defensive save by MC’s Katie VanBlargan and then Pfautz hit the post with just under 19:00 left in the half.
Finally, less than six minutes later, Stauffer set up Pfautz, placing a nice pass from the end line in front of the cage, where Pfautz buried it with 12:26 left in the half for a 1-0 lead.
"They’re a dynamite trio on the front row," Mountz said of Pfautz, Ruth and Stauffer, "and they’ve really learned to use each other well. I was really pleased with the teamwork that the girls played with today and the intensity level. We’ve been struggling to have that intensity level from the first whistle to the last whistle. When we can put a whole game together, we can play with them."
"Me, Rachel and Moriah are best buds and we just know what the other is going to do," Ruth said.
Manheim Central answered Ephrata’s goal with their own flurry, and Brittiny Griffith unleashed a couple of quality shots which were kicked out by Ephrata goalie Katie Hammaker. The freshman keeper finished the game with 15 saves.
Hammaker was especially tested in the second half when the Lady Barons turned up the heat and outshot Ephrata 14-9. After Ruth just missed giving Ephrata a 2-0 lead in the first 30 seconds, dodging MC keeper Landis (10 saves) and nearly tucking it inside the left post, Daniel hit the post for the Lady Barons at the other end. Then Griffith created a golden opportunity with a rush into the circle, where Hammaker stood her ground on three shots.
"Honestly, the first 20 minutes of the second half was the most beautiful hockey in high school that I’ve seen for years," Shober said, "and it was the best 20 minutes they’ve played, hands down, all season. Definitely."
Eventually, with 20:28 left in the second half, senior Morgan Mummau got the equalizer, collecting her fourth goal of the season on an assist from junior Katelyn Grazan.
It stayed that way until the wild sequence of events which led to Ephrata’s go-ahead goal.
After that, the Lady Barons came back with a pair of shots from Daniel and the last of their three corners with 10:30 left. But Ephrata added an insurance tally with 5:17 to go, as Ruth drew the goalie toward her, then fed a pass to the left post to Pfautz, who found the back of the cage for a 3-1 lead.
That sealed the Lady Mounts’ win and set the table for Wednesday’s conclusion. While Manheim Central must take care of its own business and then see what others do, Ephrata could lock up second place with a win over Lebanon and punch its ticket for a game against the Section One champion in the first round of the L-L League playoffs. As of press time, Penn Manor was leading Section One.
It will be the first time since 2009 that Ephrata has qualified for the League and District playoffs.
"You’re better off in third place in our Section going into Leagues, but it will be a good challenge for us," Mountz said. "I need to do some work to play with Penn Manor, but I look forward to the challenge and I look forward to District play." More MC HOCKEY, page B-5