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Warriors avenge 2010 finals loss while claiming first league title
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Jordan Loose was just trying to get the ball to one of Warwick’s strikers in front of the Hempfield goal cage.
The Warwick senior got so much more.
When Hempfield senior back Jason Bleacher tried to head it out of the box, the ball actually floated backward over Black Knights’ keeper Billy Heavner for an own goal.
"I wasn’t really planning on scoring on it, but I guess the luck just went my way," Warwick’s senior back recalled.
Lucky or not, that goal with 22:41 left in the second half was the difference for the Warriors in their 1-0 win over Section One rival Hempfield last Saturday at Manheim Central, as they brought home their first-ever Lancaster-Lebanon League championship.
The victory also avenged a 3-2 loss in penalty kicks to those same Black Knights in last year’s League championship game.
"I don’t want to say revenge, but it’s a rivalry and we come out here and there’s a little bit extra against Hempfield," senior Jonathan Wenger acknowledged.
The fact that Hempfield also beat Warwick twice during the regular season, by scores of 3-1 and 1-0, no doubt fueled the Warriors’ fire as well. Plus, Saturday’s game marked the fifth time that coach Dale Stoltzfus had taken Warwick to the L-L championship game in his 13-year tenure with the red and black.
So, getting over that hurdle was a sweet triumph for the Warriors (15-3-3).
"This is the first one we’ve gotten and it feels very good," Stoltzfus said.
"We’re happy to finally bring one home," Wenger smiled. "No complaints there."
There were no complaints about Warwick’s defense throughout the L-L Tourney, as well. Coming off of back-to-back shutouts over Section Three champion Garden Spot and Section Two king Conestoga Valley in their opening two games, the Warriors picked up where they left off against Section One champ Hempfield in a defensive battle against the Black Knights.
"What a match," Stoltzfus said. "There weren’t a whole lot of opportunities for either team to score. Both teams have a very nice structured defense from the midfield all the way through and there weren’t many opportunities. We happened to get the lucky one … Three games, three shutouts. You’ve got to realize what our two central defenders did to shut down Hempfield, Conestoga Valley and Garden Spot. Give credit to (keeper) Tanner Biemesderfer and Jonathan Wenger is really playing some great defense and Shawn Mearig. It was a great game by our defensive structure."
That defensive structure limited Hempfield to just one shot in the opening 40 minutes, and although Warwick managed only three shots, senior midfielder Derek Adams probably had the best chance while firing just wide.
Still, Stoltzfus was pleased getting to the halftime break in a 0-0 tie.
"This morning when I saw the weather report, the wind speed was supposed to be at five miles per hour at game time and nine miles per hour in the second half," Stoltzfus said. "We chose to go into the wind (in the first half) knowing that the wind was going to be stronger in the second half. So from that standpoint, we played maybe a little bit more defense that first half. I felt very good getting to halftime 0-0 knowing we had the wind to our back then in the second half."
Both squads had a corner kick early in the second as the play became more physical, with Hempfield’s Ben Hinkle and Warwick’s Mearig each receiving a yellow card with 3:40 elapsed.
But the Warriors seemed to have an extra step on the Black Knights while building a 9-4 edge in second-half shots.
Asked if Warwick thought it was due against Hempfield, senior Ryan Bertrando said, "We’ve been playing good soccer, and we know how good they are, but it’s not like we played bad when we played them (earlier). It just didn’t fall our way. So we just came out planning to play our game. We didn’t think we were the underdog or anything like that."
Seniors Chris Sandkuhler and Asher Klahold took shots that were stopped by Heavner (6 saves), and then Mearig’s header was barely off the mark on a corner kick insert from Sankuhler with just over 27:00 left.
Then nearly five minutes later, Loose kicked the ball into the box from about 30 to 40 yards out. As Bleacher back-pedaled for the header, Heavner came out of the goal, and Warwick caught a break when the ball caromed out of the reach of Heavner into the open cage.
"It was a lovely ball that Jordan Loose put up into there … sometimes the goals aren’t always pretty, but we’ll take it," Stoltzfus said.
"Put it in a dangerous area and that’s what happens," Wenger added. "Make the defenders make decisions."
Loose made a decision in the off-season which has greatly benefitted the Warwick boys, deciding to play soccer again for the first time since fifth grade.
"I just missed the guys, I missed all my friends and being with them," Loose said. "I just thought I’d give it a go one last time before my high school years were over."
His teammates and coaches couldn’t be happier that he did.
"I’ll tell you, for a guy who hasn’t played soccer since fifth grade, he came out this year as a senior and he has been doing some tremendous stuff for us," Stoltzfus said.
Senior center forward Kyle Bitterman has been doing tremendous stuff for Hempfield over his career, but he was unavailable for the Knights on Saturday due to an injury. And he was one less weapon that the Hempfield boys could turn to as they tried to come back from their 1-0 deficit. But Warwick’s defense also handled the Knights’ adjustments well with Bitterman on the bench.
"(Bitterman) is a big, strong kid and he would have made a little bit of a difference, but it happens," Bertrando said. "He’s their go-to guy, so without him, they varied their attack."
"I think he’s definitely one of the best players in the league," Wenger said, "and if you put him on any team on any field, he’s definitely a threat in this league. So it certainly helps us not having to worry about him with his speed up top. They just have to find different options."
With 8:15 left in the game, Bertrando nearly added an insurance goal for the Warriors on a nice feed from Adams. But Heavner made a diving stop to his right to keep it a one-goal deficit for the Knights.
"I thought I had it there," Bertrando smiled. "Derek layed a great heel ball off to me and it was sitting pretty for me. I put it near post and Billy Heavner made a great save. Great goalie."
At the other end, Hempfield senior Tyler Ashley tested Warwick with a blast just inside the box in the final 10 minutes, but Biemesderfer (3 saves) was equal to the task and the Warriors held on for the victory.
"We’re finally starting to click, we’re playing great defense everywhere on the field and we knew (Hempfield) was playing great defense too," Bertrando said. "It was just a battle of defenses, who could get the first goal, and luck fell our way today and we got it."
Last Thursday, Bertrando and Klahold each scored in the game’s first 3:50 and the Warriors punched their ticket to the L-L finals with a 2-0 shutout of Conestoga Valley in the semi-final round at Manheim Central. Matt Engle added an assist.
Klahold scored on a bicycle kick to add a key insurance goal for the Warriors, who outshot the Buckskins 8-3. Biemesderfer had one save and Mearig chipped in with a defensive stop. More WARRIORS, page B-8