GREENCASTLE >> When you're facing a team with a big advantage in speed – as Greencastle-Antrim was in a Mid Penn Conference boys soccer semifinal against Central Dauphin – every mistake can be magnified.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, seemingly every mistake they made was pounced on by the Rams in a 4-1 victory Tuesday night at Kaley Field.
CD (17-2) will play Lower Dauphin (18-0-1) in the championship Thursday. Greencastle (13-6) will find out its District 3 playoff fate later this week, but hopes to host a play-in game Saturday.
"They are really athletic and have a lot of speed," G-A coach Scott Gelsinger said of CD. "They're just too good of a team to make mistakes against, and we gave up two bad ones."
The first one came quickly, just 1:44 after the opening whistle.
A Greencastle defender tried to drop an ill-advised pass back to goalkeeper Bryson Robinson, who was not prepared for it. Robinson tried to clear the ball out of danger, but couldn't get much on the ball and it fell right to CD's Dax Hoffman, who calmly deposited it into the open net.
"It just came to me and I looked up and saw the keeper was out, so I hit it," Hoffman said. "An early goal like that puts us in position to win the game right away."
The Blue Devils kept the score at 1-0 for rest of the first half, but seven minutes into the second half, a defender tripped a Ram forward in the box and a penalty kick was awarded. Nate Smithers buried the spot kick to give his team a 2-0 lead.
Greencastle midfielder Kaleb Hurley said, "I thought we played pretty well, but we had some unlucky breaks."
Then minutes later, it became 3-0.
Jake Mullen took a corner kick for Central Dauphin and curled it toward the near post. CD's Nicholas Gigliotti slightly deflected the ball with his body and it snuck just inside the post and into the net.
Rams coach Gregg Davis said, "To their credit, they tried to attack us. They played direct and they put our defense under pressure. I thought our defense bent, but didn't break and we didn't give them many good looks."
The best look G-A got came two minutes after Gigliotti's goal. Avery Wenger controlled a ball on the right flank and found Brandon Stuhler with a pass in the middle. Stuhler made a nice move to get a step on his defender, and stroked a shot past the keeper.
But any thoughts of a comeback were dashed when the Rams unleashed a classic counterattack. The Blue Devils had pushed upfield for two consecutive corner kicks, and when CD gained possession, the speed came into play. The ball traveled up the left wing and Jake Grove made the final pass to right side for Brady Zeiders. As Robinson came out to challenge, Zeiders cracked a low shot into the far side netting for the clincher.
Davis said, "Here's why that counterattack worked – we kept the ball on the ground. We were putting too many passes in the air and we needed it to be on the floor. We got into the kind of play they were doing instead of what we need to do."
Despite the loss – the Devils' third straight – Gelsinger believes his team got something out of the game.
"They possess the ball and attack in numbers," he said. "It was good for the kids to see that kind of play going into districts."
Hurley said, "This will benefit us. They're one of the fastest teams we've seen and a quick passing team, and we'll have to be ready for that."
Central Dauphin 4
First half — (CD) Dax Hoffman, 2nd min.
Second half — (CD) Nate Smithers, penalty kick, 47th, (CD) Nicholas Gigliotti, asst. Jake Mullen, 57th, (GA) Brandon Stuhler, asst. Avery Wenger, 59th, (CD) Brady Zeiders, asst. Jake Grove, 67th.
Shots — CD 14, GA 4; Shots on goal — CD 8, GA 3; Corner kicks — CD 8, GA 4; Saves — CD 1 (Ryan Schultze), GA 4 (Bryson Robinson); Fouls — CD 8, GA 7; Offsides — CD 1, GA 2.