Down 2-1 at the half, Elco rallied to force overtime, then pulled out the win in a dramatic penalty kick session
MYERSTOWN - The Elco girls soccer team will remember its 18-0 regular season forever.
But if it had been followed by 0-2 and done in the postseason, looking back on that previous string of perfection would have been accompanied by an unwanted touch of sadness, an emptiness that would have taken a while to shake.
Fortunately for the Raiders, that nightmare scenario, which was in play after a 5-0 loss to Hempfield last Saturday in the L-L playoffs, never materialized. But another win they won't want to forget did.
Facing a potentially unhappy end to its dream season Monday night in a District 3 Class 3A playoff opener vs. Twin Valley, Elco found its best self when it mattered most, rallying from a 2-1 halftime deficit to squeak past the 12th-seeded Berks County reps 4-2 in penalty kicks on a blustery night on its home pitch.
After concluding the two 15-minute overtime sessions locked in a 2-2 tie, the fifth-seeded Raiders (19-1) came up big in PKs, getting successful tries from Ryelle Shuey, Emily Bidelspach, Julia Nelson and the clincher from Monica Arnold, as well as a key save from keeper Emma Strickler, to live to fight another day.
That day will come Thursday against Manheim Central, a 2-1 winner over Lampeter-Strasburg at 7 p.m. at Cedar Crest's Earl Boltz Stadium.
"'Whew" wasn't the first word out of Elco coach Derek Fulk's mouth, but it could have been.
"I don't know what to say after that," a relieved Fulk said with a thin smile. "It definitely wasn't our best effort tonight, but I guess find a way to win is what you try to do and go to the next round. I guess it's survive and advance. That's what it's about right now.
"I would have hated for us to lose in overtime, because after the year we've had I think we deserve better. That would have been a hard pill to swallow."
Truth be told, Elco was in danger of losing in regulation. After Shuey put the Raiders up 1-0 with 23:17 to go in the first half, speedy Twin Valley (13-7-1) answered a mere 59 seconds later on a Natalie Dorsheimer goal, then went ahead 2-1 on a Mady Burns score at the 6:08 mark and carried that lead into halftime.
"I had many heart attacks tonight," said Shuey of the tense nature of the contest. "I was, like, freaking out. But I knew we could pull it together as a team. It (going 0-2 in the postseason) would have been horrible. We all would have been pretty down about that. But I knew it wasn't gonna happen tonight. I had a feeling we were gonna pull through."
Shuey took matters into her own hands to make that happen, notching the equalizer with 30:47 left in regulation by whistling home a free kick from 25 yards out.
Plenty of anxious moments followed for the Raiders, both late in regulation and in the OTs via Twin Valley chances and their own missed opportunities, but with Strickler coming up big in goal Elco's collective heart continued to beat, albeit faintly.
Then it began to pound again in the penalty kick session. After Twin Valley's Marina O'Doherty started it off and missed, Shuey converted for a 1-0 lead, then Bidelspach made it 2-0 seconds after Strickler denied Burns.
Jackie Goebel and Dorsheimer followed with goals for Twin Valley, but Nelson and then Arnold made them meaningless by making the most of their chances and giving Elco a perfect PK performance on a night when it was most imperfect in every other way.
"It's something we do a lot at the end of the year to prepare ourselves for this situation," Fulk said of the PKs. "Our kids were very calm and collected, which is why we do it in practice. I thought our kids did an excellent job of sealing the deal with that."
Elco 2, Twin Valley 2
(Elco wins 4-2 in penalty kicks)
Twin Valley 2 0 0 0 - 2
Elco 1 1 0 0 - 2
Goals: TV - Natalie Dorsheimer, Mady Burns E: Ryelle Shuey 2
PKs: TV - Marianna O'Doherty (miss), Burns (miss), Jackie Goebel (goal), Dorsheimer (goal), E - Shuey (goal), Emily Bidelspach (goal), Julia Nelson (goal), Monica Arnold (goal)
Assists: TV - Nadia Ziegler, E - Bidelspach
Shots: Elco 11, Twin Valley 10
Saves: TV- Jordan deGaray (8 saves), E: Emma Strickler (9 saves)
Corners: Elco 8, Twin Valley 8