EMMAUS – The speed and physical play proved to be too much as Allentown Central Catholic scored two-second half goals in a come from behind, 3-2, win over Northwestern in the semifinal round of the District 11 Class AA soccer playoffs.
The Lady Tigers are not eliminated as they have a chance to claim third-place and a spot in the state tournament Thursday when they face second-seeded Southern Lehigh, a 2-1 overtime loser to Saucon Valley.
"They are very strong and they have great team speed and they gave us a lot to handle," Northwestern coach Kelly Bleam said about the Vikings.
In the early going Central Catholic controlled the ball in the Northwestern attack zone. When the Lady Tigers did put the ball in the Central Catholic did put the ball in the Central Catholic zone, they made the most of it.
Katie Hallingstad tracked down a long pass before it crossed the end line, wheeled around and sent a crosser. That allowed Nicole Lach to find the back of the net for the early 1-0 lead.
With the Vikettes speed, Hallingstad was able to match it and weave her way through the defense to test keeper Stephanie Vargas, but that came to an end 12-minutes before half. The Northwestern speedster aggravated a foot injury that hampered her all season. The loss had an immediate effect.
Just over a minute after losing Hallingstad, Central capitalized on Dominique Gaggiano's high arcing shot that was just too tall for Lady Tiger keeper Chelsea Ritter with 10:56 left in half.
"There was a let down after Katie went down," Bleam said. "To Central's credit the took advantage of that and took control of the game from that point."
The half could not have come quick enough as Bleam had to make adjustments.
"Our game plan coming in included having our leading scorer, so we definitely had ot make some adjustments."
Initially, those adjustments paid off. Just over five minutes into the second half, Sara Jones battled two Central defenders and let off a shot that went high into the net to give Northwestern a 2-1 lead.
Slowly, Central's speed wore down Northwestern (18-4) as most of the second half was spent deep in Northwestern's zone.
Casey Hollawell streaked up the sideline and let go the perfect crosser to Lizzy Straccia, who's header tied the game up with 22:33 to play.
The Lady Tigers held on as Central continued its attack. As the clock wound down Hollawell streaked once again. Another perfectly placed crosser was this time sent over the cross bar by Straccia as time expired.
"It's a lot of what we expected. Going to overtime was a possibility," Bleam said. "Central Catholic is a great opponent. We have a lot of respect for them and it was clear that we would have to play as close to perfect as we possibly could."
In overtime, Hollawell's corner kick found a spot in front of the net. The Lady Tigers were unable to clear it and the Vikettes Lauren Kreglow found an opening for the winner.
Thusday, Northwestern faces Southern Lehigh (18-2-1) in the consolation game at Emmaus with a 5 p.m. start time. In their previous meeting the Spartains prevailed 2-1.
"We sit down and put a game plan together, and put it together on the practice field and on Thursday night do the best job we can," Bleam said.