WHITEHALL - Tamaqua's defense never rests.
The Lady Raiders' defenders swarm opposing attackers and limit chances in front of their own net, as well as setting things up for their offense.
Tamaqua has allowed just one goal in its last 11 games and has outscored the opposition 80-9 this season, with one of those points awarded when Millersburg won an overtime shootout with the Raiders for the Schuylkill League championship.
Since that loss, Tamaqua has gotten back on track in the District 11 Class AA playoffs, blanking Tri-Valley 2-0 in the semifinals and downing Minersville 1-0 Wednesday on the artificial turf at Whitehall High School for their second straight D-11 Fall Soccer title.
The Raiders (19-1) will now face the District 4 runner-up, either Lewisburg or defending PIAA Fall State champion Montoursville, in the opening round of the State AA playoffs next Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
This marks the fourth straight year Tamaqua and Minersville have played for the D-11 crown. The Battlin' Miners won the first two, but the Raiders evened the championship series with another stellar defensive effort.
Tamaqua held a 15-2 edge in shots, but only one found its mark.
The game's lone tally came at the 8:46 mark of the first half when Kayla Hope, the Raiders' speedy sophomore midfielder, scored off a deflection in front of the Minersville net on an assist from senior midfielder Jackie Stewart.
"I was dribbling down the field and brought it along the goal line," said Stewart. "I had a girl on me, so I just kind of chipped it over there. There was a bunch of people in front and it kind of bounced to Kayla, and she got it."
"It was kind of like ping pong," related Hope. "We were just trying to cross it back and forth, and it was in front of me. I just put it in."
That was all the Raiders needed.
"We didn't score as many goals as we'd like," said Tamaqua coach Clem McCarroll, whose team beat Minersville 3-0 in the Schuylkill semifinals on Stadium Hill on Oct. 22. "We had chances, a couple of breakaways, but when you have a defense like ours, if you get a goal or two, you're in pretty good shape."
After the tough OT loss in the Schuylkill final, the Raiders were happy to redeem themselves with their second District title.
"With a District championship, if you get a win, it doesn't matter if it's by five goals or one goal," said McCarroll. "After the Millersburg game, with a loss like that, you appreciate a win like this."
The Miners came to life in the first 10 minutes of the second half, keeping the action on the Tamaqua side, but the Raiders were up to the task, as goalkeeper Chey Bates recorded her 14th shutout.
"We talked about playing better man to man defense and being patient, not stabbing and putting ourselves in bad position but controlling the ball and getting more offensive opportunities in the second half," said Minersville coach Scott Goines.
"You don't get as many opportunities in the playoffs as you do in the regular season, so you have to make the most of them, especially against a good team like Tamaqua."
"A 1-0 win is fine with me," said Raider senior sweeper Katie Hummel. "Our defense has been really pushing all year. Everbody knows each other. We became really close, and we know where everybody is. We really pushed for Shelby (Hankins, who is out for the season after having her appendix removed) this game and wanted to win it because we're upset that she can't play."
"Freddie (Hummel) sets the whole team up back there," mentioned McCarroll about his All-State sweeper. "She tells everybody who to mark, then cleans everything up. Brooke Gursky and Eden Helfrich are on top of the other players as they come back. Shelby is out for the year, but we have a freshman, Marie Streisel, who's a speedster, and she's stepped in there."
That depth demonstrates why the Raiders defended their District championship.
"It feels good that we have built a program here," said McCarroll. "We have good players who graduate, like Jess Bensinger, but we came back this year and someone else steps up. It's nice to have that consistency."