HERSHEY — With a district title on the line, Elco girls soccer coach Derek Fulk turned to ... a freshman?
With the first set of five penalty kicks tied at 3-3, freshman central defender Paige Thomas, the Raiders’ fifth shooter, stepped to the line.
She calmly buried her kick low in the left corner and the Raiders (16-4-1) defeated Boiling Springs 4-3 on PKs after a scoreless regulation and two 15-minute golden goal periods.
In a rematch of the 2018 title match — won 1-0 by Elco — the Raiders defended their District Three Class 2A title.
“I was nervous,” she said, “but I was confident I had to do what I knew how to do.”
Fulk said that had it not been Thomas taking the fifth spot, it would’ve been Carley Kleinfelter, another freshman.
“I know it’s hard to gauge,” he said, “but the last two months they’ve been the most consistent.”
Winning the toss, the Bubblers (16-4) elected to shoot first in the alternating format.
Jocelyn Kuhns placed her shot high over Elco keeper Madi Bailey. The Raiders’ Katelyn Rueppel tucked her shot inside the left post.
Molly Starner rolled a shot into the right corner and Bubblers keeper Bekah Becker stopped Tanisha Grewal to give her team the advantage.
Kaitlyn Brumbaugh and Cassie Johnson traded goals, leaving it 3-2 Bubblers with two rounds to go.
Grace Sibert opened the door for Elco, doinking her shot off the right post.
Natalie Swingholm took advantage, going inside the left post, just past Becker’s dive.
Then Bailey stretched to her left, just getting her fingertips on Olivia Olsen’s rising try, pushing it away and setting the table for Thomas.
“I probably could’ve stepped out more, gone wider,” Bailey said. “I felt confident. I felt calm.”
“I thought she was our MVP today,” Fulk said. “She played fantastic.
“In overtime, I thought they had pretty good opportunities. She saved us.”
Regulation was physical with few opportunities. In OT, it got more physical, not so much with malice, but just with desperation.
In the second OT both teams had a great opportunity to win.
Five minutes in Bailey punched away Brumbaugh’s corner kick service, then watched Starner’s header sail just over the crossbar on the continuation.
A minute later she covered Kuhn’s attempt to skim Bry McBeth’s 50-yard free kick.
With five minutes left Starner blocked Rueppel’s shot. The ball came back to Rueppel, who sent the ball just wide of the left post.
“All credit to them,” Fulk said, nodding to his team. “They got it done and found a way to win.”