STROUDSBURG – Lehighton and Pleasant Valley's Mountain Valley Conference semifinal field hockey game was a wild one to watch for everyone involved.
Back-and-forth play throughout, combined with some intense action in overtime, had the spectators' heads turning left and right every few moments.
In the end everyone's eyes were focused on the south end of the field, as Pleasant Valley's Hayley Williams put away a corner to lead the second-seeded Bears past the third-seeded Lehighton Indians, 4-3 in double overtime. It will be Pleasant Valley's first appearance in the MVC title game since the conference developed a playoff format in 2007.
"Right now it is a little overwhelming because it was such a stressful game," admitted Pleasant Valley head coach Angie Frantz. "You could just tell that the girls really wanted it. They worked hard the entire time. They didn't quit. You have to give them all the credit for that."
With the game knotted at 3-3 in double overtime, and with a number of unbelievable saves being made on both sides of the field, Pleasant Valley finally got a second to rest as it set up for a corner. Melissa Russo shoveled a pass out to Williams, who let it rip from just inside the circle. The next thing everyone heard was the ball hitting the back of the cage and the Bears' players going wild.
"I had to get it in my head that I just have to breathe and slow down," said Williams. "My game wasn't that good tonight and I was freaking out. It was really nice to get that at the end."
Lehighton (9-10) came out strong in the first half and scored the game's initial goal at the 24:30 mark. Sarah Keer picked up a rebound in the middle of the circle and let a hard shot fly for her first of three goals on the night.
However, Pleasant Valley (11-7-1) took over after that. The Bears kept the play in Lehighton's end for the majority of the half and it showed in the shot (9-4) and corner (7-1) disparity. The score would also read in the Bears' favor as Nina Staats and Russo scored for a 2-1 lead.
"At halftime I told the girls to keep working and to stay positive as a team," said Lehighton head coach Lamar Long. "The first half we came out hard, but started reverting to the 'hit the ball down the field' type of play. This week we worked on possession passes.
"I just told them to believe that they could do it. They knew they could do it and they came out and played hard in the second half."
Keer took charge by tying the game early in the second half. It was short-lived though, as Staats scored her second goal of the night less than four minutes later to give the lead back to Pleasant Valley.
With time winding down, Keer was there once again to save the day for the Indians. Keer took a rip off of a corner pass from Haley Coleman and tied the game at 3-3 with four-and-a-half minutes to go.
The first overtime was filled with odd-man rushes and diving saves. Lehighton's Kristina Schnell stuffed two breaks, including a three-on-none, to keep her team alive. Rachel Wild, the Bears' keeper, made her share of great saves as well to keep the game going.
Unfortunately for Schnell, she wasn't able to make one more save on Williams' game-winner. The Indians will now have the rest of the week to prepare for their district game.
"It is going to be a rough bus ride home," Long said. "(Tuesday) we have practice and we are just going to go back to work the rest of the week for our district game."
Pleasant Valley advances to play defending-champ Stroudsburg (17-2) on Thursday at 7:10 at East Stroudsburg South.
"The girls will have confidence knowing that they have beaten Stroudsburg this year, but they are also humble," said Frantz. "It was the same way with this game. We came in confident but not too cocky – which worked in our favor tonight. I suspect that is how we will be Thursday night."