RED HILL — For three years, Casey Umstead and Upper Perkiomen had always been the bridesmaid, yet never the bride. Three straight years of stellar Frontier Division play had led to zilch in the category of PAC-10 titles.
This year, Umstead and the Tribe were strikingly close in a repeat of that pattern. However, facing a 2-1 deficit at the hands of Methacton, Umstead came alive in the second half, netting two of the team's three unanswered goals en route to a 4-2 victory over the Warriors in the PAC-10 Final Four semifinal on Tuesday night at Indians Stadium.
"She leads by example in her play, and the players step up around her,' Upper Perkiomen head coach Jamie Warren said of Umstead. "She brought the team together tonight.'
As a result, Upper Perkiomen will square off with Owen J. Roberts in the PAC-10 final Thursday night at 7 p.m., back at Indians Stadium.
The Wildcats, who ousted Phoenixville in the other semifinal on Tuesday, shut out Upper Perkiomen three weeks ago as Emma Christman netted a first-half hat trick in the 3-0 victory.
"We've improved since we've played Owen J. (Roberts),' Warren said. "We're going to play our game and go hard — a championship style hopefully.'
A championship style was evident in the early going against the Warriors as the team struck first, five minutes into the contest. Coming off a corner, Umstead fired a shot that deflected off the stick of a Methacton defender before bouncing to an open Mackenzie Lederer right on the doorstep. Lederer corralled the rolling ball and fired it past Methacton goalkeeper Sammi Steele, giving the Tribe the 1-0 advantage — her first goal since Oct 2. in a win against Pottsgrove.
"It was awesome,' Lederer said.
The Tribe kept the heat on in the Warriors' circle as they peppered Steele with shots. Steele, though, was up to task, as she turned away the Tribe's offerings — most notably a sprawling right pad save off a shot from a crashing Aubrey Wilcox.
"Their goalie (Steele) is very good,' Warren said.
Midway through the first half, Methacton's forwards started to match the play of its goalie as Maddie Alderfer and Alexa Hoover gave the Tribe a wakeup call, scoring twice in a 30-second span. Hoover's speed came into play for the first goal as she raced down the field from the 50-yard line, entered the circle and sent a cross to Alderfer who took a few steps to the right before beating Upper Perkiomen goalkeeper Hannah Mack stick-side for the equalizer.
Thirty-seven seconds later, Mack kicked the ball to an open Hoover, who then deposited the second goal past the junior goalkeeper, right under the crossbar.
"They got those two goals on us quickly,' Warren said. "We left (Hoover) clearly unmarked in the circle and she cashed in that goal.'
Five minutes later, Emily Sayre almost had a notch in the assist column at the latter portion of the first half as she tried to feed Hoover with a pass through the circle; however, an outstretched Mack impeded the pass, and with herself face down on the turf was able to keep the ball out of the cage long enough until Morgan Aldinger cleared it to safety.
Facing the 2-1 deficit, Umstead and the Tribe started to ignite at the end of the half, earning three corner tries in a two-minute span. Despite coming up fruitless in their corner attempts during the time frame, the team had started to build some momentum entering the half.
"We told them at halftime that we have to stay composed,' Warren said.
"We just needed to play our game,' Lederer added. "I think we fell into their hands a little bit.'
Entering the second half, the Tribe picked up right where they left off as they earned another two corners in the opening three minutes. This time, Upper Perkiomen was able to cash in. Receiving the pass from Sam Dingler, Umstead settled and then let one fly. The shot deflected off a Warriors stick and then found its way back to the stick of Umstead — who collected her own rebound and fired a shot past a diving Steele to knot the game at 2-2.
Corners became a recurring theme for the Tribe as they collected four in the next seven minutes. Like before, Upper Perkiomen was able to take advantage. Umstead, receiving a pass from Dingler, fired a shot that rattled off the right post, careening to a wide-open Maddie Fox — who buried it home from the left post, giving the Tribe the 3-2 edge with 20 minutes remaining.
"We knew that we needed to try and prevent corners,' Methacton head coach Sarah Quintois said. "Unfortunately we weren't able to do that. They're hard to stop on the corners and we weren't able to stop the play.'
Twelve minutes later, Umstead netted the team's final goal, this one coming as she lost her footing and was sent down to the turf. The UConn recruit mustered enough power on the shot to scoot the ball past an outstretched Steele for the insurance goal that the Tribe craved for.
"We knew we had it. If they scored they weren't going into overtime, we weren't as panicky,' Umstead said.
Methacton started to apply some pressure late in the half but Mack denied a Hoover shot followed by her eighth (and last) save of the night on a sprawling right-pad, kick save that denied a Brittany Dickinson attempt. As the play stopped, Umstead came over and gave a pat on the back to the goalkeeper who had allowed only two goals in the last five games.
"I realized that I'm the last line of defense,' Mack said. "I just needed to get the ball out wide and prevent the girls from getting another scoring chance.'
"That (save) was awesome, that was really good,' Umstead said.
Now, all attention is on Thursday for both Methacton and Upper Perkiomen. Methacton, despite losing on Tuesday, will likely earn a mid-seed in the District 1 playoffs and will await their fate as the district pairings will be announced Thursday night.
"Now we have to focus on districts,' Quintois said. "Thursday night we're going to have to figure out whether we'll be on grass or on turf and who our opponent will be. We'll have to gear up for whoever that might be.'
For Upper Perkiomen, it's a chance for the 12 seniors to claim their first PAC-10 title. And if Umstead and Warren have their say, losing isn't an option.
"She hates to lose and I hate to lose,' Warren said. "Right, Casey?'
"Yup,' said Umstead.
Follow Sam Stewart on Twitter @Samuel_Stewart7