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One win from State gold L-L rivals will face each other in the State championship game
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
It’s not unusual for a shot off the stick of Warwick senior Emily Harting to leave a lasting impression.
"Those hurt when you get hit in practice," senior teammate Kayla Laughman laughed. "Whew. Those are not fun."
With 11:22 remaining in Tuesday night’s PIAA State Triple-A playoff field hockey game against Mid-Penn powerhouse Central Dauphin, the only thing Harting hit with a wicked blast from the top of the circle was the back of the cage, giving the Lady Warriors a 3-1 lead.
And with that, Warwick officially put the Rams on their heels and never let them recover, as the Lady Warriors punched their ticket to the PIAA State Triple-A championship game with a 4-1 victory at Hershey High School.
"It doesn’t feel real," Warwick senior midfielder Alyssa Manley said.
"They’re bringing everything," Warwick coach Bob Derr remarked, "and when you’re talking a semi-final game, and you’re one game away from the State final, man, you’d better bring it. And they did. They put everything out there on the field and I am so proud of them and of what they’ve accomplished. But you know what, we’re not done. We’ve got one more game to go."
Now, standing between the Lady Warriors and their fourth-ever State gold is a familiar foe. For the fourth time this season, the Warwick girls will face off against Section One rival Hempfield, a 4-3 winner over two-time reigning State champ Emmaus in the other semi-final game. In what is believed to be the first-ever State championship game pitting two L-L League teams, Warwick (23-4) and Hempfield (18-6-1) will play at Zephyr Sports Complex at Whitehall High School this Saturday at 1 p.m.
"It’s crazy — two Section One L-L teams," Warwick senior Emma Rissinger said. "It’s good because we know how they play and we know what they do. But then again, it’s a rivalry, so no one really has an advantage."
In their earlier meetings, the two teams split the regular-season series, with each squad pulling out a 3-2 victory. Then in the District Three Triple-A third-place game, Warwick fell behind 1-0, but rallied for a 3-1 victory.
Hempfield is returning to the State finals for the first time since 1998, when they lost 4-0 to Lower Dauphin. Warwick, meanwhile, will be looking to go 4-for-4 in the State finals and bring home its first crown since claiming back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000, when they defeated Upper Moreland 3-0 and CB East 1-0, respectively. The Lady Warriors also won State gold in 1987 with a 2-1 win over Conestoga.
Asked about facing the Lady Knights for a fourth time with so much at stake, Derr said, "Right now, the opponent doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to take care of what we can do. We’ve just got to eliminate as many errors as we can on the field and just play good solid field hockey. Hempfield is very fast and they’ve got some good quality players."
There was no error by the Lady Warriors when they took a 1-0 lead against CD with just 3:31 gone on Kiersten Cepeda’s first of two goals. Converting on an assist from Alyssa Manley, Cepeda scored on Warwick’s first shot of the game.
But the Lady Rams (21-5-1) also made their initial shot count, with Erin Dickey doing the honors on a penalty stroke less than three minutes later to tie the score 1-1.
With the Warwick girls unable to get their possession game on track in the opening half, CD carried most of the play while building the advantage in shots (6-2) and corners (4-2).
"I think we were kinda struggling in the first half, just with our passes and the placement of the ball," Manley said.
Nonetheless, however, Warwick scored on both of their first-half shots and they took a 2-1 lead into the break after Cepeda beat Central Dauphin keeper Halle Frisco with 4:32 left in the half, scoring off a pass from the right wing by Bethany Han.
For Cepeda, it was her team-leading 26th goal and the ninth time this year that she has scored two or more goals in a game. That’s not bad, considering she only scored her first goal in Warwick’s seventh-game of the season.
"Kiersten is a tough player. She came in midway through the league season. I guess that was poor coaching on my part for not recognizing that I needed to have her in there," Derr quipped.
Early in the second half, Warwick started to get more penetration deep in CD’s end of the field, but goalie Alexis Charles also came up big to stop scoring chances by Katie Foran and Taylor Deitrick from close range to preserve the one-goal lead. For the game, Warwick’s senior keeper turned away eight shots.
"I could tell in today’s warmup that Alexis was ready," Derr said. "She was ready for today. She took a lot of shots and made a lot of saves."
Her teammates rewarded her for those efforts by getting four straight corners at one point, and on the final of those, Harting took the insert pass from Cepeda and fired a rocket into the left corner of the cage with 11:22 left.
"That was awesome … it was just a sweet shot," Laughman said.
"We just kept coming in strong and fast (in the second half) and that’s where the decision-making takes place, where you are making good decisions with the ball," Derr said. "I think maybe we got Central Dauphin on their heels a little bit in that second half, especially when we scored goal number three."
If goal number three got CD on its heels, goal number four was the knockout blow. That one came on a sweet reverse stick shot by Rissinger with 8:31 remaining, after she received a pass in front by sophomore Liz Wenger.
"The (CD) girl was on my right, so I only had the reverse shot," Rissinger said. "That’s always our goal to play a possession game, but I think we did a better job of it in the second half."
From there, the three-goal cushion was more than enough for a Lady Warrior defense which has allowed just eight goals in 10 post-season games.
"We’ve worked really hard being organized in the backfield and I think we do a really good job," Laughman said. "When one of us needs coverage, the other one is right behind her just in case and we just work really well together."
This Saturday, they will try to capitalize on that formula one more time.
"As we started in the League playoffs and even into Districts, you could see a change," Derr said. "There was a change that I noticed in them that they were closer and tighter than before. They looked much closer together and they were helping each other all the way through, both on and off the field … I’m just excited for the girls because of what we’ve gone through to get to this point." More LADY WARRIORS, page B-8