ORWIGSBURG – Tamaqua had a "Hope".
But Halifax had a "prayer."
At the 29:15 mark of the second half, Kayla Kelley's direct kick sailed over the head of Tamaqua goalkeeper Cady O'Malley to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. The goal was the only score of the game, as Halifax advanced to Saturday's Schuylkill League championship game against defending league champion Blue Mountain (a 4-0 winner over Minersville).
It marks the second straight year that Halifax has knocked off the Blue Raiders in the Schuylkill League semifinals (last year, Halifax defeated Tamaqua 2-1), and the fourth time in as many years that Tamaqua has come up empty in the Schuylkill League playoffs.
"I'm very frustrated right now because I know we could have played better," stated Tamaqua head coach Clem McCarroll. "We sort of got out of our style. We didn't pass as much as we should have and we got caught up in just kicking the ball around instead of really playing hard out there. It's disappointing because you want to be peaking at this point in the season, not going backward."
After a scoreless first half, Halifax finally got the big break it was looking for. And it came from the most unlikely source.
Following a Tamaqua foul, Halifax sophomore Kayla Kelley lined up a free kick from about 30 yards outs. The sophomore, who entered the game having scored only two goals all season, drilled the ball just over the outstretched arms of O'Malley at the top of the net. It was a perfectly executed kick that couldn't have been placed any better.
"I said a quick prayer before the kick and God was with me on that one," said Kelley. "I don't really score much, as I normally just like to play the ball around and watch other girls take it to them. I had an opportunity tonight and I just wanted to try to make the most of it."
And Kelley certainly did that ...
O'Malley, Tamaqua's starting forward, was forced into emergency action when Tamaqua lost both of its goalkeepers to injuries within a 48-hour stretch late last week. Starting goalkeeper Chey Bates was lost for the season at Thursday's practice when she suffered a torn ACL. Bates led the Schuylkill League with a .917 save percentage. Then, during Saturday's regular season finale against Blue Mountain, backup keeper (and JV goalie) Tanisha Farber went down with a sprained knee. With no other keepers on the roster, McCarroll turned to O'Malley, whose only prior experience in goal was when she replaced Farber in Saturday's overtime loss to the Eagles.
"It didn't matter what goalie we had in there," stated McCarroll. "The shot was perfectly placed high in the top corner and there's really nothing we could have done about it."
The Blue Raiders (13-3) certainly had their fair share of opportunities, as they held a 13-4 advantage in shots on goal.
At the 23:30 mark of the second half, Kailee Rottett just missed a cross to Kayla Hope. Then at the 11:45 mark, Hope missed an open look, as the ball trickled inches past the right post.
With 3:25 to go, Hope executed a fantastic corner kick, but Halifax keeper Krista Bainbridge snuffed out Brynn Lehatto's header. Finally, with five seconds left, Rottet blasted a direct kick right into the smothering arms of Bainbridge.
The shutout was Bainbridge's ninth of the season, as she recorded 12 saves.
O'Malley had three saves in the loss.
"I'm certainly not going to use the keeper situation as an excuse," added McCarroll. "We had the shots, we just didn't put them in. Halifax is known for being a good defensive team, so when you get opportunities like we had tonight, you need to convert them."
Halifax entered the game averaging just 1.87 goals per game (28 goals in 16 games). In comparison, Tamaqua was averaging a league-leading 3.93 goals per game with Rottet and Hope accounting for 24 and 22 goals respectively.
"It was just one of those nights where sometimes they fall and sometimes they don't," concluded McCarroll. "It's frustrating to see these girls work so hard and have nothing to show for it, but we'll regroup and hopefully come out with better results next week in Districts."