Cedar Crest s Kayla Krall, left, enjoys a celebratory hug with keeper Katie Gable as fellow Falcon Carli Wasson looks on happily after Cedar Crest defeated
Cedar Crest s Kayla Krall, left, enjoys a celebratory hug with keeper Katie Gable as fellow Falcon Carli Wasson looks on happily after Cedar Crest defeated Elco, 4-1, in the opening round of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs Saturday in Elizabethtown. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
ELIZABETHTOWN - It goes without saying that the Cedar Crest girls' soccer team isn't as formidable an opponent when Haleigh Echard is not on the field.

But, as the Falcons proved on Saturday afternoon, they're no picnic to deal with when they're minus their star midfielder, either.

With offensive catalyst and Penn State recruit Echard absent due to a U.S. National U18 team camp commitment in Florida, Cedar Crest still looked very much like the defending Lancaster-Lebanon League champ it is during its opening-round L-L playoff game at Elizabethtown Area High School.

Probably didn't hurt, either, that archrival Elco was on the other side of the field providing added motivation.

Led by a hat trick from senior forward Gabby Boehmer, Cedar Crest kept its hopes of a successful league title defense very much alive with a dominating 4-1 victory over the Section Three champion Raiders.

Despite barely making it into the L-L playoffs after an up-and-down regular season, the Falcons, the third-place team from Section One, were energetic, focused and clearly the better team from start to finish.

The first of Boehmer's three goals came a little over five minutes in, providing a lead that would only grow and an eventual Tuesday date with Cocalico in Tuesday's semifinal round back at Elizabethtown. Game time is 5 p.m.

The Falcons (11-6-1) defeated Cocalico in penalty kicks in last season's league title game.

"I think we definitely played together as a team, for sure," said a pleased Cedar Crest coach Lauren King of her team's key to success on Saturday. "And this was definitely one of Gabby's better games. She definitely picked it up and played really well - the whole team did."

Definitely true. Although Boehmer was the unquestioned catalyst, distributing and finishing with equal skill, the Falcons got all kinds of contributions while making Elco look a step slow and unsteady most of the afternoon.

Cedar Crest s Gabby Boehmer sends the ball into the box as Elco s Eve Peiffer gives chase during Saturday s Lancaster-Lebanon League playoff opener in
Cedar Crest s Gabby Boehmer sends the ball into the box as Elco s Eve Peiffer gives chase during Saturday s Lancaster-Lebanon League playoff opener in Elizabethtown. Boehmer notched a hat trick and an assist in Cedar Crest s dominating 4-1 win. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)

The biggest non-Boehmer effort came from sophomore midfielder CeCe Fiorentino, who knocked in a perfect Boehmer feed with 1:37 left in the first half to put Elco (10-6-1) in a deflating 2-0 halftime hole.

But there were plenty of others. Kayla Krall chipped in with an assist on Boehmer's third goal and also provided the cross that led to Boehmer's initial rebound score at 34:33 of the first half.

And defensively, Crest, which also defeated Elco, 3-1, in the annual Blue-Gray Cup battle in early September, was airtight.

Keeper Katie Gable came up with two key first-half saves, while it was still a 1-0 game and got able support from defenders Sherry Moore, Sydney Laicha and Taylor Menser, among others.

"I did," King said, when asked if she expected the performance she got from her team on Saturday. "We had high expectations, especially because it was Elco. I think that really lit a fire under us."

"I don't think we were ready to play, and obviously as the head coach that's my responsibility," said Elco coach Derek Fulk. "I thought Cedar Crest did come to play and played very well. Even without Echard. They might have had a little chip on their shoulder because she wasn't there. They were definitely the better team today, no doubt about it."

The Raiders turned in a much more spirited performance in the second half, but the Falcons barely noticed thanks to the quick start that provided them with plenty of wiggle room by the time Elco got going.

Cedar Crest s CeCe Fiorentino (10) battles Elco s Emerson Brown for the ball during Lancaster-Lebanon League playoff action on Saturday. Cedar Crest won
Cedar Crest s CeCe Fiorentino (10) battles Elco s Emerson Brown for the ball during Lancaster-Lebanon League playoff action on Saturday. Cedar Crest won the L-L opener by a 4-1 score. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)

"We tried to make sure we had a focused bus ride here, a focused warm-up, so that we could come out strong," Boehmer said. "Because we thought they were gonna come out strong, so we wanted to come out even stronger. We wanted to finish early and put the game away early, because the more it drags, on the more they think they have a chance of winning."

Beth Schomp got the Raiders on the board with 9:02 left when she whistled a shot past Gable. But that score came with Crest up 3-0, thanks to a nifty dribble and shot move by Boehmer that resulted in the University of Maryland Baltimore County recruit's second goal with 28:43 to go.

Boehmer then finished off her hat trick with 5:03 left by putting home a right-to-left cross from Krall in the middle of the box.

"You definitely hear everybody talk about Haleigh Echard, but I think Gabby can be just as dangerous," said Fulk. "I thought we were giving her much too much time and space, and she's gonna pick you apart if you give her opportunities."

And with Echard absent, Boehmer and her teammates knew that opportunities that were given had to be converted. Or else.

"I knew I needed to put a few in the back of the net," she said, smiling.

Mission accomplished. League title hopes: Still alive.