Elizabethtown boys soccer won a second consecutive Lancaster-Lebanon League championship, and its third in four years, with a 2-0 victory over previously undefeated Lancaster Mennonite at Warwick’s Grosh Field on Thursday, Oct. 19.
“It means a lot to the program. Obviously, me as an old coach, I relish the opportunity to see boys win on the field of play. I thought that tonight was a game of momentum. You win with players and you lose with coaches. Tonight, we won with both,” coach James Sostack said.
The Bears and the Blazers played to a scoreless first half before Sostack made a tactical change to open the second half.
The Bears were playing with a single high forward in the first half, whether it be David Shank or Adan Cabrera Perez. Sostack decided to play with two up top in the second half to put more pressure on the Blazers’ defense. It didn’t take long for the change to produce results.
Braden Kreider scored in the 42nd minute after dribbling into the box, taking a stutter step to get the Lancaster Mennonite goalie off balance and placing the ball into the back of the net.
“It was a lot quicker than I anticipated. It definitely helped when we got the early goal in the second half. Let’s say that I didn’t sugarcoat my halftime speech with them because I recognized that we needed to talk about that heart and desire. We had talked about getting to the first ball and speed of execution, but tactically shifting I thought that it would change the nature of the game and it did,” Sostack said.
Off a throw-in, Shank took a touch past Lancaster Mennonite’s left outside back and sent a cross in the box that was headed into the air by Caleb Gerber. The Blazers’ goalie hesitated and the loose ball fell to Kreider’s feet. The senior took advantage and scored his second goal of the game to double Elizabethtown’s lead.
With a two-goal lead, the game was seemingly in the hands of Elizabethtown’s defense. Colin Wieand, Grey Fertich, Chris Gartley, Jon Gartley, David Buckwalter, Owen Evans, Shank and Cabrera Perez all pitched in at various times to limit the highest-scoring team in the Lancaster-Lebanon League this season.
Lancaster Mennonite scored 85 goals this season, which was 15 more than the second highest total. Senior Matthew Lynch was responsible for 25 of those goals and Elizabethtown gave him the attention that he commanded.
When playing center back for a stretch, Shank was responsible for shadowing Lynch and followed him wherever he went on the field. That was not a permanent defensive assignment, however, as Sostack said he felt comfortable giving that assignment to multiple Bears.
“He [Lynch] is an excellent striker and very, very dangerous. We wanted to ensure the fact that he didn’t have space to turn. I thought that David did a good job, but then we passed him around a little bit. It’s almost a testament that I feel confident in all the defenders,” Sostack said.
While the Bears defense put forth a competitive effort, goalie Austin Denlinger was there to bail the Bears out on two particular occasions.
In the first half, a Blazers attacker was able to take a touch past Wieand, but Denlinger was able to punch the ball wide of the post to keep the game tied at that point. Deep in the second half, after Elizabethtown established its 2-0 lead, Lancaster Mennonite was awarded a free kick at the top of the box that was heading towards the lower left corner of the goal before Denlinger deflected the ball off the post to preserve the shutout. Those were just two of the 13 saves that Denlinger made in the game.
Kreider scored a team-high four goals in the Lancaster-Lebanon playoffs and added an assist well.
“He’s a special player. He’s been a special player for all four years. It’s funny because he’s not super flash, but he’s got great moves,” Sostack said.
Cabrera Perez recorded four assists in the three playoff games after having two in 17 regular season games.
Since the 2014-15 season, Elizabethtown is 71-11-6 and has won four Section Two championships, three Lancaster-Lebanon League championships and was a PIAA AAAA state runner-up.
The Bears then shifted their attention to the District Three playoffs. In their most recent trip to the District Three playoffs, Elizabethtown lost to Hempfield in the championship game.
Sostack was quick to remind the Bears that while they just won a second title this season, they also have more to play for.
“That’s the first thing I said to them. Feet back on the ground. There is the next prize in front of us and we know that all of the teams are going to be like LMH [Lancaster Mennonite]. They’re all going to be like Hempfield. They’re all going to be extremely good. We’re going to have to find our way through this. We continue to grow and we continue to learn,” Sostack said.
The next team in front of No. 2 Elizabethtown was No. 15 Central Dauphin (7-9-1) in the first round of the District Three Class AAAA playoffs.
The Rams visited the Bears and Jane Hoover Field on Tuesday, Oct. 24, and left with a 2-0 victory to end Elizabethtown’s season.
Central Dauphin scored on its first shot on goal in the 16th minute and carried a 1-0 lead into halftime.
Elizabethtown fired six shots at the Central Dauphin goalie, but none found the back of the net
Despite being down 1-0, Sostack said that he told the team that the first team to score in the second half was going to win the game.
Central Dauphin was that first team to score in the second half as they doubled their lead in the 53rd minute. Elizabethtown had only conceded two goals in one other game this season.
Elizabethtown nearly brought themselves within one goal when Kreider dribbled to the goal line before his cross found Cabrera Perez’s chest. The shot, heading for the bottom left corner of the goal, was turned away by the Rams goalie.
It was one of Elizabethtown’s 11 shots on goal that were saved.
“It’s bittersweet. We talk about districts and there are opportunities that are few and far between and the team that capitalizes on them wins the game. Tonight, we were unable to capitalize and we’ve been fighting that throughout our season,” Sostack said. “When you have a great team like this, at the end of the day, every team is going to lose except for one. I think it’s an early exit for us.”
Playing for the first time since winning the Lancaster-Lebanon League championship, Sostack said that he and the team talked about a championship hangover before the game.
“L-L League teams are very vulnerable after winning and L-L League championship because of the emotional investment, but we don’t look for excuses. I give my boys credit. They didn’t lose their belief and fought to the end, but tonight wasn’t our night,” Sostack said.