WHITEHALL No. 1 seeded Northwestern and No. 2 seeded Southern Lehigh were scheduled to face off Thursday at Emmaus High School in the consolation game of the District 11 soccer tournament. However, lightning and thunder riddled the skies and the two teams were forced to put their dreams of qualifying for a berth in the PIAA State Tournament on hold for another day.
When the two teams met at Whitehall High School on Friday, the players seemed unphased by the delay, as they battled evenly.
The talent on display was proof of that as the Lady Tigers and Lady Spartans showed their mettle through two halves and a majority of the first overtime session. Finally, Southern Lehigh's Emily Cerciello scored off a Courtney Long assist to give her team a 2-1 victory and send her team to the state tournament.
"We didn't really want to go into another overtime session because our team was pretty beat," Cerciello mentioned. "But we got a great clear from our defense, a great assist from Courtney Long, and I knew I had to put it in."
Early on in the contest, Southern Lehigh took advantage of a breakdown by the Northwestern defense and took the early lead on a Courtney Long goal. Long was aided on the score by a Kelsey King assist.
The score remained that way until a little after halftime when the Tigers tied the game at 1-1 when Cassandra Yost lofted a nice shot high over Southern Lehigh goalie, Melanie Novak, who grazed the ball, but couldn't stop it.
"I thought we played very well in the second half," Northwestern coach Kelly Bleam said. "We have a lot to be celebratory about with the outstanding season we put together. Unfortunately, we lost to a very good Southern Lehigh team tonight."
The second half featured strong defense and outstanding teamwork from both sides of the ball with the score remaining knotted until the regulation buzzer sounded.
In overtime Cerciello took the feed off to the right of the Tiger goal and beat goalie Kelly Boyd for the game-winning score..
"We had some tough breaks this season in leagues and the district semifinals," Cerciello said. "We just knew we had to step it up today."
Long finished with goal and an assist for Southern Lehigh. Spartan goalie Melanie Novak stopped two shots in goal.
"Making it to states is great," Southern Lehigh coach Doug Roncolato said. "It had been a goal of ours all year. The game tonight was see-sawing back-and-forth and the momentum was going back-and-forth all night, too. But it was a great game for us to win because the whole team stepped up. We were solid in the middle, we were solid out front, and just solid everywhere."
The loss ends Northwestern's season at 18-5.
"The good news is, is that we have a lot of numbers returning next year for our program," Bleam said. "We had been fighting off fatigue and stress all season, but the team really stayed together."
The Tigers will lose some key seniors, however.
"Seneca Tucker and Katie Iobst are both seniors this year and were our captains," said Bleam. "We will definitely miss them."