A steady rain made everything slick at Northside Elementary in Mechanicsburg on Thursday.
None more important than the soccer ball that left Hershey forward Caroline Brown’s foot in the last five minutes of regulation.
Brown’s shot was blocked by Mechanicsburg sophomore goalkeeper Nikki Keiser but slipped through her hands for the game-deciding goal, lifting the Trojans past the Wildcats 2-1.
That winning shot wasn’t the only time Brown had a significant impact on Thursday’s game. The sophomore set the tone for the entire game just 51 seconds into the first half ��“ her goal on a straight shot from the right side, assisted by teammate Riliegh McHugh, gave Hershey an early lead.
Trojans head coach Jeff Rosensteel admitted the early cushion gave his side some confidence. The Hershey defense prevented any early Mechanicsburg breakaways, giving its offense ample opportunities to extend the lead.
But even though the Trojans were prepared for the Wildcats’ quick game play, the speed generated by Mechanicsburg was more than Rosensteel had planned on.
“Their quickness in the back … we knew they were quick in the back but they really had us off balance in the first half, big time.”
Hershey finished with just four first-half shots and two corner kicks.
Meanwhile, the Wildcat offense slowly wore away at the Trojans.
Almost every breakaway attempt by Mechanicsburg forwards Megan Keiser and Jodie Zelenky ended with Hershey defensive back Nikki Onorato. The Trojan junior played deep enough, and was fast enough, to keep up with the Wildcat forwards.
Finally, Megan Keiser put Mechanicsburg on the board with just 18 seconds left in the first half when Zelenky recovered a deflected Wildcat corner opportunity and sent a ball to the left side of the Hershey goal. Keiser put a head on the ball past Trojans reserve goalie Shannon Fedyk.
“(The Trojans) are about the best defense there is,” said Mechanicsburg head coach Tony Lougee. “We did everything humanly possible to (score).”
After being out-shot (6-4) and out-cornered (8-2) in the first half, Hershey clamped down on the Wildcats’ offense in the second. In fact, Mechanicsburg didn’t register its first shot of the second half until the 68th minute — 27:10 into the second — when a straight shot by Alex Brandt was snagged by Hershey starting goalie Katie Wagner.
With Onorato shutting down the Mechanicsburg forwards, Brandt was literally the Wildcats’ offensive attack in the second half, registering all three of her team’s shots in the final 40 minutes, including a knock that rang off the crossbar in the 70th minute.
Though the shot dropped in front of the goal, Mechanicsburg couldn’t push it across for the deciding goal.
“I thought we turned a little bit around in the second half,” said Rosensteel. “Their shot off the crossbar, of course that was huge, too.”
This time, it was the Trojans’ offensive pressure that slowly wore away the Mechanicsburg defense Hershey out-shot the Wildcats 7-3 in the second half, culminating in Brown’s game-winning strike.
By Tom Ash; Sentinel Reporter; firstname.lastname@example.org