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Girls' soccer: Shuey leads epic Elco rally in district opener

MYERSTOWN >> It was over. Truly, it was.

At least that's the way it felt after the Elco girls soccer team fairly staggered through the first 55-plus minutes of its district playoff opener against Schuylkill Valley on Monday night.

The Raiders were down 2-0. Reliable junior keeper Emma Strickler was sidelined after suffering a possible concussion early in the second half. And worst of all, the Berks County reps were thoroughly outplaying the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three champs on their home field.

Other than that, everything was going great.

Apparently, though, Elco had the 11th-seeded, upset-minded Panthers right where they wanted them.

Led by extraordinarily gifted freshman forward Ryelle Shuey, No. 6 Elco fashioned a comeback for the ages, scoring three times in the final 24:13 to pull out an exhilarating 3-2 victory in a District Three Class AA first-round clash that won't soon be forgotten by the folks in Myerstown.

The precocious Shuey was all over the rally, assisting on Jenna Oliviero's goal that got the Raiders breathing again, then adding a pair of scores that took their collective breath away — a pressure-packed, game-tying penalty kick with 16:45 left and a ridiculous left-footed strike from the 20-yard line with just 1:26 to play that secured the victory.

After staring down the end of their season — and some of their careers — the Raiders now have a quartefinal matchup with East Pennsboro on Thursday to prepare for. Site and time is to be announced.

"I think our determination and heart just pulled us through," a grinning Shuey said. "We really wanted it, and I know I really wanted it for the seniors. And once we saw our goalie go down, then we really wanted to turn the game around."

"Uh oh. Oh, no," quipped Elco coach Derek Fulk, when asked for his thoughts on the Raiders' pre-comeback performance. "Obviously, I don't think we played our best game tonight. But our team showed a tremendous amount of character and heart and determination to come back from being down 2-0."

The Raiders themselves weren't the only reason for the 2-0 deficit. Quick and skilled up front, the Panthers were simply better for most of the night, and cashed in on that advantage on Megan Murphy's score with 22:05 left in the first half, then again with 3:48 gone in the second half when Megan Jardine found the back of the net.

"I feel like we were just timid to the ball, maybe unsure of ourselves," Shuey said. "But we really turned it on then."

For sure.

Strickler (8 saves) went down shortly after Jardine's goal following a collision in front of the goal and did not return, replaced by backup Haley Sherk.

But the injury seemed to light a fire under the Raiders, and Shuey and Oliviero struck the first match, teaming up to cut the deficit in half with 24:13 left.

Its spirits lifted, Elco began attacking with renewed vigor and was rewarded for it with 16:45 left when Kate Fisher was fouled in the penalty area, giving the home team a penalty kick that Shuey calmly slid past keeper Samantha Phillips to tie the game.

"Oh my gosh, right when (Fulk) said my name I was like, 'Oh, crap,'' Shuey said with a laugh. "I was so nervous. But when I stepped up I just took a depth breath. We'd been practicing it, so I knew where to place it. I knew what my job was to get done."

The best was yet to come, though.

With overtime beckoning and the drama heightening, Shuey stepped to the front again, this time with a high-arcing, highlight-quality left-footed blast that ultimately secured the victory.

It was simply a remarkable play made by a remarkable player to complete a, well, remarkable comeback.

"She's just a special kid," Fulk said. "She was named MVP of our section, so obviously I'm not the only one who feels that way. She's one of those kids that comes along once in a great while and is just really special. She just has the ability to make things happen on the field and make people around her better."

"I heard Derek yell, 'Shuey, take it!'" Shuey said of the game-winner. "I just happened to look up and pop one over. It was just luck. So much exhilaration; It was great. It's something I'll definitely remember."

She won't be alone.

Elco 3, Schuylkill Valley 2

Schuylkill Valley 1 1 — 2 Elco 0 3 — 3

First half — SV: Megan Murphy

Second half — SV: Megan Jardine, E: Jenna Oliviero, Ryelle Shuey 2

Assists — SV: Fiona Murphy, Megan Murphy, E: Shuey

Shots on goal — Elco 15, Schuylkill Valley 10;

Corners — Elco 4, Schuylkill Valley 2;

Saves — SV: Samantha Phillips (12 saves), E: Emma Strickler (8 saves), Haley Sherk (2 saves)