MANHEIM >> Nothing like a late goal out of nowhere to ruin a perfectly good performance.
Actually, it didn't ruin all that much for the Elco girls soccer team. If anything, the Raiders gained more than they lost from Saturday's 1-0 setback to Hempfield in the opening round of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs at Manheim Central.
That said, Elco, fresh off a Section Three championship, earned the right to be a little deflated after outplaying the Black Knights in the first half and battling them on even terms for most of the second until Schyler Ackerman knocked in a pass from the left side with 1:35 left to give the perennial Section One power the win and a berth in Tuesday's semifinals.
The Raiders, now 14-4-1 overall, appeared headed for overtime and a who-knows-what-can-happen ending until Ackerman volleyed Maddie Massengarb's high-arcing pass from the left side out of the air and past keeper Emma Strickler with the final minute of regulation beckoning.
"It seemed like it came out of nothing," Elco coach Derek Fulk said of the goal. "But I said one thing that they'll do is, they're very opportunistic and if you give them chances to hurt you they're gonna do that. I think somebody lost a mark and the girl volleyed it out of the air. It was a good goal, it's just unfortunate for us when it happened and how it happened."
Particularly, as noted, because Elco played with the required tenacity and skill to win. Specifically prior to intermission when it outshot Hempfield (11-2-3) 5-2 led by spirited play up front from Ryelle Shuey, Taylor Bossert and Kiyana Rodriguez. In addition, Strickler played well in goal, stopping seven shots before Ackerman popped in the game-winner.
"I think it's a little frustrating, but I told them I'm very proud of the way they showed themselves today," Fulk said. "I think we proved we belonged here. I know it's always tough, being a smaller school playing against some of the bigger schools. But I don't think they have anything to be ashamed of. I thought we played really well. You just have to put something in the net so you don't put yourself in that situation (at the end)."
Fulk was particularly pleased with Elco's willingness to stand in and give as good as it got in those moments when the play turned physical.
"I went to see (Hempfield) play Conestoga Valley the other day, and that's one thing I told the kids, 'You gotta be physical today,'" Fulk said. "I thought that was probably the most physical game we played all year, and it made a difference. It made a difference in the way we played. Hopefully we'll keep that aggressiveness."
While Hempfield moves on to Tuesday's semis against Conestoga Valley, a 1-0 double OT winner over Cocalico, Elco will now be idle until opening the District 3 Class AA playoffs next Monday, Oct. 26.
But Fulk is hopeful that benefits gained from Saturday's loss will stay with his squad into the next stage of postseason play.
"I think it's definitely gonna help us going forward," Fulk said. "I don't think we're gonna play teams like Hempfield in districts. I told them, 'If you play like you did against Hempfield in districts, you're gonna be fine. But you gotta do what you did today.' We challenged them, and hopefully they'll respond to the challenge."
Hempfield 1, Elco 0
First half — None
Second half — H: Schyler Ackerman
Assists — H: Maddie Massengarb
Shots on goal — Hempfield 8, Elco 6;
Corners — Hempfield 5, Elco 0;
Saves — H: McKenna Zerbe (6 saves), E: Emma Strickler (7 saves)