Grey Fertich scored in the 79th minute to send Elizabethtown and Hempfield into overtime tied 2-2 before Caleb Gerber scored his second goal of the game to advance the Bears to the Lancaster-Lebanon finals.
Following the victory on Tuesday, Oct. 17, the Bears are scheduled to play Lancaster Mennonite in the championship game on Thursday, Oct. 19, at Warwick at 5:30 p.m.
The Blazers (19-0, 14-0) scored twice in the final 6:28 to defeat Ephrata 2-1 in their semifinal matchup.
Against the Black Knights, the Bears fell behind after Hempfield scored in the 27th minute. Hempfield forced Elizabethtown into a defensive style of play much of the first half and generated a majority of the offensive opportunities. Despite doubling the Bears in shots and tripling them in shots on goal, they only had a lone goal to show for it at halftime.
Gerber scored his first goal in the 51st minute to tie the game at 1-1, but the tie was short lived as Hempfield took a 2-1 lead in the 56th minute.
As the clocked ticked down, the Bears offense began to play with a sense of urgency that generated several corners and shots on goal.
With less than two minutes remaining, David Shank sent a throw in towards the box that was settled at the feet of Jon Gartley. His shot hit the inside of the left post, defected past the Hempfield goalie and was put into the back of the net by Fertich.
“When it was 2-2, that’s when the confidence actually came from the group. We knew exactly what we needed to do as far as execution,” coach James Sostack said.
Facing a golden goal overtime period, Elizabethtown wasted no time finding the game-winning goal. With 3:26 gone, Gerber put the final touch on the game-winner to send Elizabethtown to the league championship game.
Assistant coach Andrew Shoenberger joked that Gerber “stole it off Brady’s foot.” Brady, in this case, is Braden Kreider. The team’s celebration after advancing to the finals can be viewed here.
Sostack said that the comeback win in overtime was a trademark victory and one that brought back memories of their 2016 playoff run.
“We try not to reminisce and go back, but we recognize that at the end of the game, it was just all about heart and desire,” Sostack said.
He also referenced a buy-in from his players, which was in reference to the 4-3-3 formation that the Bears switched to.
“I knew what to do. I had scripted this game plan out. I was very fortunate that the boys executed it against an incredibly good and talented possession team,” Sostack said.
Hempfield came into the game ranked third in the District Three AAAA power rankings. Elizabethtown was ranked second. The Black Knights were also champions of Section One.
After the game, Sostack said that he didn’t want to reveal too many thoughts about Hempfield because there is a chance that the two teams meet again in the District Three playoffs.
When told about the result of the Ephrata/Lancaster Mennonite semifinal, Sostack said that it was fitting that the Section Two champion gets to face an undefeated Section Three champion.
“Yeah, well, we’re not Ephrata. We’re Section Two champions. I did some scouting today. I went over to the game and I spent the first half there. I’ve got plenty of notes so it’s back to the drawing board and figuring out what needs to be done. They have threats just like Hempfield. They possess the ball like Hempfield, but there is parts of the game that we can take advantage of hopefully,” Sostack said.
Elizabethtown defeated Lancaster Catholic 5-0 in the quarterfinals on Saturday, Oct. 14, to set up the semifinal match with Hempfield.
Kreider opened the scoring in the 20th minute with a low, driven shot that beat the Crusaders’ goalie to the far post. Kreider’s goal was the only one in the first half before the Bears came out with a barrage of goals in the second half.
Kreider got his second goal of the game in the 44th minute off an assist from Adan Cabrera Perez. A minute later, Cabrera Perez got his second assist of the game when he found Chris Gartley unmarked in front of the net. Cabrera Perez finished the game with two assists after having two in the entire regular season. Gartley’s goal was his first of the season.
Kreider added an assist to his line when Caleb Gerber headed his cross into the back of the net in the 51st minute.
Finishing three goals in the first 11 minutes of the second half is something that Sostack has been looking for from his team all season.
“If we have to wait for playoffs to execute and find those finishes, then I’ll take it. The score could’ve been a lot more. There are always things that you need to polish,” Sostack said.
Cole Baker substituted in for starting goalie Austin Denlinger with 16:45 remaining in the second half and he preserved the team’s third straight shutout.
Sam Becker was one of the many underclassmen that Sostack sent in at the end of the game to get playoff experience and he took advantage with a goal in the 79th minute.
While Becker and several others got valuable experience in the playoffs, the Bears have a strong class of upperclassmen that have extensive playoff experience.
“I think that obviously helps to have some experience, but you can see that, when we have the opportunity, we don’t just settle with the players that we have. We’re always building the program,” Sostack said. “That’s always been our mantra for the last 20 some years that I’ve been coaching. Give the younger guys a taste so they can get used to that.”
The five goals were the most Elizabethtown scored against a team that finished above .500. The previous record was three goals against Warwick.
The team reached the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs with a flurry of victories at the end of season, combined with Ephrata stumbling to the finish of its season, to win a fourth consecutive Section Two championship.
Ephrata defeated the Bears 1-0 in double overtime earlier in the season, which meant that the Bears had to chase the Mounts the back half of the season. Ephrata began the season 13-0 overall and 10-0 in Section Two. Due in part to an injury to their second leading goal scorer, Aaron Cummings, the Mounts were 1-2 in their last three games heading into their matchup with Elizabethtown on Wednesday, Oct. 11. The Bears were 6-0-1 after the loss to the Mounts.
Ephrata would have won the Section Two crown with a win or a tie against Elizabethtown. The Bears had to defeat Ephrata and Solanco on back-to-back days to win the section.
Sostack and the Bears were aware of the clinching scenarios prior to the game, but that didn’t change their preparation.
“I don’t think it was any particular different message than what we’ve been saying the past few games. We knew that Ephrata was going to be defensively strong and compact,” Sostack said.
Elizabethtown controlled much of the first half and its offensive effort was spearheaded by Kreider. As the two teams reached the midway point of the first half, Kreider volleyed a shot on goal, but the Ephrata goal keeper was able to deflect the shot wide of the goal.
Roughly 15 minutes later, Kreider again sent a shot on goal that the Ephrata goalie deflected, but this time Caleb Gerber was there to put the rebound in the back of the net to give Elizabethtown a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute.
Coming out of halftime, the Bears remained aggressive on offense looking to increase their lead to two. Sostack did, however, make a change to his personnel.
Cabrera Perez played forward in the first half and switched to a defensive midfield role in the second. Fertich was paired at center back with Colin Wieand and David Shank moved to forward from his position at center back.
Then, as the 80th minute began to approach, Sostack and the Bears began to put numbers behind the ball and decided that a shutout was more realistic than building a sizable lead.
“It was a gritty game for us,” Sostack said. “It’s not exactly how I’d like to finish the game in the second half, but sometimes you just grind things out.”
Sostack assigned Cabrera Perez to shadow Ephrata forward, and leading goal scorer, Andrey Patrushev. At one point in the final 10 minutes, all 11 Bears were within 30 yards of their own goal.
“Obviously, if he [Patrushev] is the primary threat with Cummings out, then why not just mark him out of the game? Adan is more than capable. He did that last year when we made that run to states. He’s shown his capacity to really silence a guy,” Sostack said.