Heartbreak in Allentown Despite dominant effort, missed opportunities prove costly in 2-1 OT loss in State finals
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Warwick coach Bob Derr got his first look at the scorebook as two reporters approached last Saturday.
"Holy crow," Derr said, shaking his head.
If Warwick’s skipper was having a difficult time trying to believe the statistics, you certainly couldn’t blame him.
His Lady Warriors outplayed Hempfield to the tune of an eye-popping 32-8 advantage in corners and a 22-9 edge in shots in the PIAA State Triple-A field hockey finals.
Yet, it was the Lady Knights who won their first-ever State gold, as junior Megan Bupp re-directed a lift by Rachel Cox into the back of the cage with just 23 seconds left in OT to give Hempfield a 2-1 victory at the Zephyr Sports Complex at Whitehall High School.
"We just didn’t capitalize on the offensive end of the field when we had opportunities to score," Derr said. "That’s the nature of this game. You can dominate a game and lose and that’s pretty much what we did. We pretty much dominated the game, but (Hempfield’s) defense did a heck of a job … That’s the nature of this game. I’ve won games like that and I’ve lost games like that. I’ve been on both ends of the situation."
For Warwick, it was their first loss in four trips to the State finals in program history. Saturday’s showdown also marked the first PIAA field hockey championship game featuring two L-L League teams.
Certainly, Warwick (23-5) and Hempfield (19-6-1) were no strangers to one another, with three previous meetings this fall being decided by a 3-2 score — two in the Lady Warriors’ favor.
Saturday, though, was a new day and Derr wasn’t surprised to see the State finals be more of a low-scoring affair.
"I knew it would be different," Derr added. "Like I said, I really give (Hempfield) credit. Their defense was fabulous. Their defense was just unbelievable. We didn’t execute well on penalty corners at all."
The Lady Warriors had just taken their 32nd and final corner when Hempfield pushed the ball in the opposite direction. A defensive save by senior back Heather Gailor on a shot by Warwick senior Alyssa Manley — Hempfield’s third of the game — kept the Lady Knights’ hopes alive.
Bupp subbed into the game as her team went on attack and the junior defensive midfielder was nearby as Warwick senior keeper Alexis Charles saved an initial shot by Rachel Cox.
"Alexis played a ball — I don’t know if it was a shot or what — but it didn’t get cleared that far and then it came right back in again," Derr said. "Then that one got saved and it seemed to become a ping-pong game, like a pinball machine really, until someone finally got a stick on it and put it in the back of the net."
That someone was Bupp, whose re-direction ended up in the right corner of the cage with 14:37 elapsed in the first 7-on-7, 15-minute overtime period.
Bupp’s goal ended a game in which Warwick totally dominated the stats. In the first half alone, the Lady Warriors had 13 corners and seven shots, and they had a golden opportunity when senior Emma Rissinger and junior Kiersten Cepeda broke in alone on Hempfield keeper Kayla Denlinger. But Denlinger made a nice diving play as Rissinger tried to dodge left to keep Warwick off the scoreboard.
"It was just a matter of pulling the ball a little bit further and (Emma) would’ve had it," Derr said. "The goalie stopped it with her stick."
Denlinger finished with 18 stops while junior back Sara Brooks added two defensive saves — one in each half. Brooks, Gailor and senior Marissa Greiner handled the defensive back duties in front of Denlinger.
"I think (Hempfield’s) defense did a real good job," Rissinger said. "(Denlinger) had a great game — she made a lot of real good saves and some of their defenders had saves where it got past the goalie and they stopped it from going in the cage. So we had a lot of opportunities where it could’ve gone in, but they just really came to play their ‘D’ that day."
Hempfield’s defense managed to keep it scoreless until the Lady Knights opened the scoring on one of their four first-half corners. Junior Kelsey Nolan’s shot from the top of the circle was stopped by Charles (7 saves), but Brooks picked up the loose ball and tapped it home with 21:15 left in the stanza.
It remained that way at the break and then Warwick got a second breakaway chance early in the second, with Liz Wenger, Marissa Lutz and Cepeda ahead of the Lady Knights’ defense. Wenger, on the right side of Denlinger, tried to slide a pass across the front, but Hempfield’s keeper stopped it.
"Liz just waited a little bit too long to get that pass across," Derr said.
Less than a minute later, however, Warwick got the equalizer on its second corner of the half. Cepeda inserted the ball to senior Emily Harting, whose rifle from the top of the circle beat Denlinger inside the left post with 23:35 remaining in regulation.
"Getting the goal to tie it up, that felt good. Then we knew we still had a chance," Rissinger said. "But when we were down a goal, I think we were kinda playing scared knowing we had to get that goal just to tie it. And I think once we were tied, that’s when we started calming down and just controlling the game."
With just over 16:00 left, Harting again found the net with a reverse stick sweep on a corner opportunity, but the ball exceeded the 18-inch height limit and the goal was negated.
"The only way you can hit the ball (above 18 inches) in the air is a second shot or if the ball goes beyond the broken circle, and it didn’t do that," Derr said.
Undaunted, however, Warwick continued to threaten, getting six consecutive corners over a six-minute span ending with Denlinger making three stops with 9:30 remaining.
"It was really frustrating because we dominated the second half completely," Rissinger said. "We were in our scoring circle for almost the whole half, so it was just hard after the game to think we had all those scoring opportunities and we couldn’t capitalize on any of them."
Then the Lady Warriors generated seven more corners in the final 6:05 and Brooks recorded her second defensive save to help preserve the 1-1 tie.
"In the first half, (Hempfield) kept changing their defense up (on corners), so that changed a couple of things," Derr said. "Then in the second half, we changed things up as far as what corners to run and we were getting a lot of quality shots. We just weren’t getting anything directly in the goal, other than the one that we scored. But boy, we got so many opportunities to score. Just to dominate a game so much and to lose is really heartbreaking. That’s probably what hurts the most. But the true hockey fan up there in the bleachers watching that, they knew they saw a good team out there (with) good skill, good technique. They saw some good hockey."
In the overtime, both squads had their chances, including a near-miss by Hempfield’s Sarah Helgeson with just 2:30 elapsed when her shot went barely wide of the left post.
Eventually, though, Bupp was in the right place at the right time for the Lady Knights.
"You feel bad for them," Derr said of his players, "because they put so much into it and just didn’t finish it. We dominated the game — we just didn’t score. And when you get down to the end in overtime, anybody can win now. All you need is that one lucky break … They had a great season. I’m just sad to see us get to the point where you dominate a team and lose. It’s going to hurt the girls for a long time because they’re always going to remember that one time that they were there. It was a great journey, but the journey is a little bit incomplete. But when they reflect back on what they’ve done through the season to get to this point, they’re going to enjoy that part of it."
Rissinger said that they even started to reflect back on their season on the bus ride back to Lititz after the game.
"At first, we were all still kinda sad and upset," Rissinger said. "But we started having more fun knowing that would be our last time together. We kinda forgot about the outcome of the game and just thought about getting there and how that was good." More LADY WARRIORS, page B-8