Sometimes, when you’re trying to make history, you just need a little more time.
With Manheim Township and Lampeter-Strasburg each competing to win its first Lancaster-Lebanon League field hockey championship in school history, it’s no surprise that Saturday’s showdown at Conestoga Valley was deadlocked at the end of regulation.
After Township tied the game on an early second-half goal, the squads traded shots as the ball bounded between the 25-yard-lines. When the time came for the golden goal, however, Julia Smecker was ready.
Two days after netting the winner in the semifinals, Smecker sent the ball crashing into the backboard 3:32 into the extra period, securing a 2-1 overtime victory for L-S and the L-L trophy as a special birthday present for Pioneers’ coach Katrina Swarr.
“Yep, that was for her today,” Smecker said with a laugh.
“It feels well earned because the last two games have been games — a lot of play between the two (25-yard lines),” Swarr said. “I feel like Township may have dominated us a little bit in the second half and I was getting a little bit nervous. But we talked about not just charging through. You have to make that small pull, and it doesn’t get any better than this.”
L-S (15-4-1) knocked Northern Lebanon and CV out of the tournament to reach the final, and looked ready to push its winning streak to four from Saturday’s opening whistle.
The Pioneers needed just a minute to get on the scoreboard. Chloe Blantz took off down the right sideline before sliding a pass across to Daisy Frank. The junior returned the ball to Blantz, who fired past diving Township goalie Vanessa Daniels for the 1-0 advantage.
L-S remained in control for most of the period, but struggled to find another goal against a stout Township (13-7) defense that had only given up two goals in its last six games. Blantz had her breakaway halted near the right baseline — forcing her shot off the outside of the cage — three minutes before Township’s Sophia Rockwell made a defensive save, swatting away a penalty corner.
Rockwell tried to get something going on the other end, but saw her shot blocked by Keiva Middleton. Allison Cubell’s strike and another two on an ensuing corner would all be turned away by L-S goalie Alexis Garrett.
“I knew I had to save it because I knew our team could win,” Garrett said. “(In the second half) they were trying to pull around me, which they did, so I knew I just had to work that much harder.”
Not to be outdone by her counterpart, Daniels made a big stop in the final two minutes of the half, sliding out of the cage to meet a charging Frank.
Township picked up the intensity in the second period and found the equalizer 6:06 after intermission. Rockwell intercepted an L-S pass and sped down the field, where the Blue Streaks earned a corner.
Cubell took the insert at the top of the circle and passed back to inserter Kayte Moist. She then slid the ball right to Rockwell, who flipped it into the back of the net.
Township continued to pressure, earning four corners, which were turned away by Garrett and Middleton to send the game into overtime.
The extra period began with the teams trading possessions, with both starting to show some fatigue. Swarr had a plan for that, however, slowly substituting at the end of regulation to get her forwards some added rest.
“Julia’s the last one we pulled, so I guess it worked,” Swarr said.
After holding Township outside the circle, L-S sent a long pass down the far sideline. Blantz sped past the pack to corral the loose ball and Smecker took off alone from the 50-yard line. Anticipating the pressure, Daniels came out of the cage, giving Smecker just enough space to score.
“I just started sprinting because I saw Chloe had the ball,” Smecker said. “She got around the one defender and she hit it in and I just knocked it in the back. It’s just insane, so surreal. All four years just sort of led up to that moment.”