Ephrata coach Wes Deininger said that Tuesday evening’s Lancaster-Lebanon League girls soccer semifinal had the feel of a late district or a state game.
It was an observation that was hard to argue.
The Mountaineers battled Conestoga Valley through 75 scoreless minutes at Manheim Central's Elden Rettew Field before Annie Slovak found an opening in the defensive blanket that had covered her.
Taking a ball from Jorja Welch and playing down the left side, Slovak looked for her opportunity.
“I had a lot of space on the left wing,” she said. “I was planning on taking it there at first but, honestly, I was way too tired for all that running on the outside.
“I just tried it back, with a little cut, and just took the shot.”
The shot, a diagonal riser, nestled in the upper right corner of the net, boosting the Mounts (17-1-2) to a 1-0 win and their first league final since spring 2000.
They will meet a familiar — too familiar — foe at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Warwick High School, as they face L-L Section Two rival Manheim Central, a 2-0 victor over Cocalico on Tuesday, for the third time this year.
In a match making up in excitement what it may have lacked in scoring, the teams probed and parried all evening.
With the No. 1 scorers from their respective sections on the pitch — Maddie Delgado — 33 points —for CV (11-5-2) and Slovak — 50 points — for Ephrata — the back lines were constantly tested.
For long periods of the evening it looked like CV’s Gabbie Barone and Dana Wentz were going to go home with Slovak.
In turn, the Mounts’ inside duo of Kristen Homan and Rosa Saenz marked Delgado as tightly.
“They bottled up, did the job on Maddie,” said Bucks coach Keith Nagley.
“We like to play the ball through the middle and hit our wings. The ball was in the air so much we couldn’t control it.”
There were moments both ways.
CV’s Ana Weiss got free on a steal and breakaway in the 14th minute, Mounts keeper Jocelyn Umana making the stop.
Six minutes later Slovak sent a curving strike on goal, smothered by Ally Riggle.
Riggle plucked Carly Holochuck’s header of Olivia Myer’s corner in the 57th minute and stopped Welch’s strike with 16 minutes left.
With the lead, Umana saved Kayla Weaver’s shot with 4:17 to go, then faced down Delgado’s free kick from the top of the 22-yard arc with just over two minutes to play.
“It was just a moment of greatness that was going to win it for one team or the other,” Deininger said.
Manheim Central 2, Cocalico 0: Hannah Adair scored her seventh and eighth goals of the season and the Barons booked a spot in the final.
Adair scored in the 28th and 66th minutes as the Barons (14-4) erased the memory of a double-overtime loss in the 2018 semis.
“This meant a lot to us,” Adair said, “not only because it gets us to the next round, the championship, but we’re going to be playing Cocalico in districts as well.”
The Eagles (11-6-2), who came into the game 11-1-1 in their last 13 starts, carried the momentum of Saturday’s emotional PK quarterfinal victory into the match.
They tested Barons keeper Mia Reed twice in the first three minutes.
Lydia Burton headed Saige Musser’s corner kick on net, with Reed securing the ball.
Then Musser took a through ball from Kaia Martz with a step on the defense. It was still a long way to the box, though, and Autumn Greiner influenced Musser to shoot earlier than she would’ve liked.
Early enough to give Reed time to make the save.
It was the last really good chances the Barons would allow.
“They really limited our opportunities to use our speed,” Eagles coach Dan Hogan said.
“They were pretty smart about, any time the ball would get behind one of their backs, the center backs would come over, clear it out of bounds and they’d get organized behind the ball.”
With just over 12 minutes to play in the first half Makenna Copley carried the ball down the left side, playing it into Adair.
As Adair collected the ball, a lane opened to the near post.
“My back was to the ball,” Adair said, “so I took a touch inside, past the defender.”
From the center of the box, her shot beat keeper Adrienne McGallicher, giving the Barons the lead.
Two minutes later, clearing a long entry ball, McGallicher came down awkwardly, injuring her leg.
She was replaced by freshman Paige Myer, who gave an outstanding effort over the next 51 minutes.
With just under 15 minutes to play, Kelly Abrahamson sent ball ahead to Adair, who lifted a 30-yard shot over Myer.