HEGINS - In the first 10 minutes of their girls' soccer game with Halifax last night, Tamaqua dominated, but just couldn't score. The agressiveness and offensive control by the Lady Raiders was what many had anticipated would happen.
What wasn't expected, though, was for the Wildcats to take over the game's tempo, especially in the second half. In that second half, only about two minutes of action occurred in Halifax territory. The other 38 minutes had Tamaqua with their backs to their net, playing primarily defense.
The result was that Halifax scored a stunning 2-1 win in a Schuylkill League semifinal contest at Tri-Valley High School.
The loss deprives the Raiders of playing for the league title in front of a home crowd tomorrow night when Tamaqua hosts the Schuylkill League championship. Instead it will be Halifax (15-2-2) versus Blue Mountain, who shut out Minersville last night 3-0.
The outcome was an unlikely one considering Tamaqua (15-3-1) easily handled Halifax three weeks ago, 5-0. It was unlikely, too, because the Raiders are one of the most explosive soccer teams in the region, averaging about five goals a game going into the contest. They outscored their opponents 17-4 in the previous three games and had seven or more goals on six different occasions.
Last night, Tamaqua was as cold as the blustery wind that whipped across the field.
In the game's first 10 minutes, it was all Raiders. The ball crossed midfield into enemy territory just twice, and both times it was only momentary. In that span, the Lady Raiders took three shots on the goal.
The remaining 30 minutes of the first half was a grueling, physical, defensive duel.
Although the second half action was primarily in the vicinity of Tamaqua's net, it was a well-executed, 35 second, downfield drive which let the Blue-and-White score first. Bringing in the ball from out of bounds in the left corner, a teammate passed it to senior Lauren Mateyak who was on about the 20 yard line. She tapped the ball forward twice, then gave it a hard hit straight on into the net with 18:09 showing on the clock.
For over six minutes the Raiders kept the lead, despite Halifax keeping the ball deep in Tamaqua territory that entire span. At 11:02, senior Lauren Steffen came from the right side and drilled the ball past Tamaqua goalie Cheyanne Bates to knot the score.
With just 5:32 left, Halifax scored again. This time sophomore Lezlee Witmer hit the ball high from the right side, sending it over the head of the Tamaqua goaltender to account for the final 2-1 score. It was Witmer's first goal of the season.
Tamaqua never even got a shot on the Halifax goalie after that, nor did they even threaten.
Raiders head coach Clem McCarroll was happy what he was witnessing in the beginning of the game. "I thought we were in a good position," he said. "The wind was to our backs and the sun was shining in their (the Wildcats) eyes."
When Tamaqua put the first point on the board, McCarroll was even more pleased.
"They came back though," he said of Halifax. "I've got to give them credit."
Despite the loss, McCarroll said he feels his team played hard. "Kayla Hope was all over the place," he said. "Kailee Rottet was in the middle and did a good job."
Wildcats coach Jan Hoffner admited she made some serious adjustments for last night's rematch.
She said after the two teams met three weeks ago, "We felt like 5-0 wasn't representative of the team we have."
"We knew they were an offensive powerhouse," she said. "I felt if we could shut down Rottet who is a scoring threat from everywhere, we would do okay."