Pequea Valley angled for an edge in the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Four standings in Thursday night's first-place showdown against Lancaster Catholic, and the Braves searched for an edge in the game with season-high stakes and the score tied at zero.
In the 26th minute, Nevin Stoltzfus delivered it.
Crashing the Lancaster Catholic net, Stoltzfus deflected TJ Hershey's crossing pass. When goalkeeper Nathan Hummer denied the initial chance, and the ball bounced off a Crusader defender, Stoltzfus gathered the rebound and shuffled it into the net. Kyle Diller and Hershey added second-half goals, and the Braves moved into sole possession of first place in the section with a 3-0 victory.
Coming into a key point in their defense of last year's section title, the Braves (6-0-0 Section Four, 8-1-0 overall) had suffered their first loss of the season in nonleague game at Wyomissing Saturday.
"We had a lot of energy coming off that Wyomissing loss," Hershey said. "We wanted to come out and prove that we mean business in the district and the section. We wanted to prove that we want to be on top of everything at the end."
Pequea Valley's Josh Bailey sends a direct kick to the Lancaster Cathokic frame. LC keeper Nate Hummer absorbs it to keep things scoreless in the 16th minute. pic.twitter.com/C86Of10cL3— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) September 19, 2019
The Braves and Crusaders (5-1-0, 6-2-1) traded jabs in the opening minutes, as the adrenaline spiked and the chilled autumn air took on a postseason feel. In the last meeting between the two teams, Pequea Valley clinched last year's section title in a regular-season finale.
"They were going to have some fuel after what happened last year," said Peter Bennett, Pequea Valley's coach, "and we needed to rise to the occasion, especially coming here. I think our guys were up for that."
The Braves defense, for the most part, kept the Lancaster Catholic attack away from the net and goalkeeper Nehemiah Glick, only allowing two long-range balls to bounce in on goal.
"That team got a lot better than they were last year," Lancaster Catholic coach Bryan Fossi said of the Braves. "You could tell they were working in the offseason. Some of them put on some muscle, and they're faster. We knew they were a good team coming in, but that was a gut check for us."
In the opening moments of the second half, Lancaster Catholic's Gavin Morales set up Ethan Paulukow for a game-tying bid that sailed just over the crossbar.
"If that goes in, it's a different game," Bennett said, "I was glad to see us sort of realize we needed to wake up, go down, get forward, put the penalty in and go from there."
GOAL, Pequea Valley. Kyle Diller, on a PK, extends the Braves' lead at Lancaster Catholic to 2-0 at 43:57. pic.twitter.com/4NKvEKf5xo— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) September 20, 2019
The Braves responded with an attack that yielded a penalty kick in the 44th minute. Diller punched it in to double the lead. Hershey added an insurance goal in the 76th minute, racing behind the Lancaster Catholic defense and slipping a shot past Hummer (12 saves).
"We didn't put enough pressure on them," Fossi said, "and they were able to distribute to their dangerous front three."