Conestoga Valley wins L-L boys' soccer title with 2-1 win over Hempfield
LITITZ - Twice before in his sparkling soccer career - as a freshman and one season later as a sophomore - Connor Whitacre was part of Conestoga Valley clubs that came mighty close to hoisting Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament crowns.
So when the electrically charged senior midfielder with the lethal left foot and his driven teammates took yet another shot at hoisting a long-awaited championship trophy, the Buckskins did what they needed to do to get the job done.
Whitacre was the driving offensive force Thursday night at Warwick High School, scoring one goal and setting up another as Dave Hartlaub's Buckskins held off fast-closing Hempfield 2-1 in an L-L final filled with pace, hard tackling and want-to.
David Gonzalez also connected for CV (16-2-0), which was turned away by Lancaster Mennonite in its other title game efforts. Trey Orner added three saves for the Section 1 champs, who split two regular-season outings with Hempfield.
"Us seniors remember the two other ones we weren't able to get," Whitacre said. "Being it's senior year, we were definitely out to get this one. We knew this was our last chance, so we gave it all we had and we played a heck of a game."
Kurtis Rineer, with help from Colby Smith, bagged the lone finish with just 4:28 showing for Mark Ashley's Black Knights (15-6-0). In its first final since 2011, the Knights also picked up a pair of stops from goalkeeper Ryan Shiner.
"Give them credit, they're a very organized team with their speed and their size and they know how to play and they definitely go hard," Ashley said. "They scored a lot of goals this year and they know how to put the ball in the back of the net."
So when Matteo Adiletta played the ball deep into Hempfield's defensive third - to Whitacre's feet - Hartlaub's Buckskins seemed poised to jump in front with just under six minutes gone. However, Shiner interrupted the play.
Only briefly, though.
Whitacre regained possession a second or two later some 12 yards out, loading the ball on his left foot while Shiner scrambled to get back into position.
And when the ball is on Whitacre's left foot? "It's going in."
One briskly taken pop later, the ball skipped quickly past a defender and into the back of the net. CV was up 1-0.
"Yeah it helped [settle us down], but we couldn't let down at all and put another one in - which is helpful, too," Whitacre said. "Kept us on top."
While CV's second goal did not materialize for quite some time, Hempfield nearly equalized in the ninth minute when the ball was positioned just outside the penalty area for a restart materialized following a Buckskins foul.
Rineer uncorked a low strike that zipped past the CV wall and appeared destined to skip just inside the right upright. A fully extended Orner - all 6-3 of him or so - was able to get his left paw on the ball and parry it out of danger.
"He did a great job on that ball," Ashley admitted.
Although several terrific scoring opportunities materialized in the early moments, there wouldn't be many the rest of the half as both sides vigorously attacked the ball in the midfield and rarely let anyone find enough space to author a shot attempt.
Hempfield's Duncan McMurtrie had one late in the half, but blasted it just high.
CV had a dandy early in the second half when Whitacre swiped the ball in the midfield, danced down the right flank and tried to serve a ball toward the left post. Shiner, though, did a nice job of smothering the cross.
The Buckskins created more danger some 15 minutes in from the left flank, getting the ball past a charging Shiner. Yet with the keeper off his line, Ashton Yoder moved into position and cleared the ball out of trouble.
Finally, with just under 13 minutes showing, Whitacre put another stamp on the game, receiving a ball and lugging it into the penalty area. Able to turn and motor near the end line, he created space by beating several defenders, then promptly skipped a ball across the six-yard box to a wide-open Gonzalez.
Gonzalez did not miss, upping the CV lead to 2-0.
"I remember getting the ball played to me and Coach was saying, 'Go end line,'" Whitacre recalled. "So I went end line.
"I knew I had a guy on my left and I was able to cut in," Whitacre continued. "I actually megged him and I was able to get around him and put it across - and David was there. We preach all season, we work on that drill, getting end line and putting it across, he was there and put it home."
"[Whitacre] just understands when a guy's getting close, just to ratchet up just a notch and get beyond you," Hartlaub said. "So he surprises me a lot of times. The balls he'll get to. The moves he'll make. The understanding he has.
"And when he's on, he's one of the toughest kids to beat."
Despite its two-score lead - CV center backs Nick Delgado and Ben Cutler used their wheels to neutralize Hempfield's bigger forwards, while players on both sides just continued to go after the ball - the Black Knights weren't done.
And when Rineer fielded a Smith dish and turned it into a score, Ashley's bunch trailed by just one score with four-plus to play. Moments later, Christian Benedict's header was punched away by the long-limbed Orner.
Even after McMurtrie was shown a red card and excused for taking down Adiletta some 25 yards from goal, the Black Knights continued to push.
"I was very proud of the guys the way they battled back," Ashley said. "That's kind of been our theme all year is just resiliency and we showed it. We showed it tonight. The fact that we created those chances at the end, that any one of those goes in and it's a new game. We were down a man at that point, so I was really proud of the effort they gave and we didn't give up.
"We had to make some adjustments on the fly being shorthanded and being down like that. The guys did well. I think it'll carry into districts," added Ashley, whose Knights will open the 3-AAA tournament Tuesday at home against Chambersburg. "We learned some things tonight that will help us."
Still getting players forward in the final seconds, the Knights watched their final chance go awry when Drew Johnson's rip whistled over the crossbar
. CV, which will open districts against Mechanicsburg, soon began to celebrate - its first L-L tournament title.
"They're technically so sound. They move the ball so well," Hartlaub said. "Eventually you're gonna mess up. And tonight, we were just lucky enough not to mess up twice. We messed up and they capitalized.
"And they probably could have capitalized a couple of times," Hartlaub added. "But to be fair, my guys did the job."
Conestoga Valley 2, Hempfield 1
Hempfield 0-1-1 Conestoga Valley 1-1-2
Scoring: 1. CV-Connor Whitacre (Matteo Adiletta), 5:57; 2. CV-David Gonzalez (Whitacre), 67:12; 3. H-Kurtis Rineer (Colby Smith), 75:32.
Shots: H 7, CV 7.
Corners: H 4, CV 4.
Saves: H (Ryan Shiner-2), CV (Trey Orner-3).