EMMAUS Northern Lehigh field hockey coach Jess Frew and her team know all too well just how dangerous the Pen Argyl team can be. After all, Pen Argyl beat Northern Lehigh during the regular season. The two teams wound up meeting again in the semifinals of the District 11 playoffs on Saturday and it was there that the Bulldogs got their revenge.
With the score tied after 60 minutes of regulation, the two teams stayed knotted at 1-1 through two 15 minute overtime periods, leaving penalty strokes as the only way to settle the game and send one of the two teams on to the district finals. Northern Lehigh goalkeeper Chelsea Harlan was up to the challenge and blocked two shots, giving her team a 4-2 win in strokes and a 2-1 win in the game.
"They're definitely a strong team and they have an outstanding center midfielder, so I knew coming into it that we had to shut [Sara] Cinelli, who is really strong," explained Frew. "They don't have a problem scoring, they have four attacking forwards, so we had to stress really tight defense in the defensive circle and take advantage of any offensive opportunities in the offensive circle."
The Lady Bulldogs did keep Cinelli from doing any damage on the scoreboard, but Lacey Hempeler scored early in the second half for Pen Argyl to tie the game up after Northern Lehigh had taken a 1-0 lead early in the first half when Shannon Weil redirected a shot from Erika McKay.
While Frew doesn't like having a game come down to penalty strokes, she understands the necessity of the tie-breaking plan. She also believed that her players toughened in overtime and Harlan turned in a huge performance, especially on the penalty strokes.
"It comes down to not giving up. They truly believed that they were going to get the win. That's the true heart of the game and they just showed it today, scrapping it out and earning the win," said Frew.
As for Harlan, the senior goalie isn't fond of having to face as much pressure as she did from Pen Argyl, but knows it's all worth it when her team comes out on top. Harlan credits her team working on penalty strokes in practice with helping her to develop a technique.
"I basically just watch how they set up their shot to figure out which way they're going to go and then I just react and try to stop it," said Harlan. "Our team has kind of had fun practicing strokes, we turn it into a competition, so I was ready for it and prepared."
In all, Harlan had 15 saves for Northern Lehigh as the Bulldogs outshot the Lady Knights 25-16 and held a 16-13 advantage on corners in the game.
Northern Lehigh (16-5) moves on to the district finals to face Southern Lehigh (19-2-1) Thursday evening at Emmaus. The two teams have met twice before this season, with Northern Lehigh taking a 3-0 win over the Spartans in the regular season and a 1-0 win in the Colonial League finals ten days ago. Southern Lehigh reached the finals by taking a 2-0 win over Moravian Academy.