HERSHEY >> There’s something liberating about being the underdog. Frees up the mind. And that, in turn, can free up the body to do amazing things.
Hard otherwise to explain exactly what happened on the Hersheypark Stadium turf Saturday evening in the District 3 Class AAA girls’ soccer championship game. Because, really, the result defies rational explanation.
Daniel Boone (17-2-2 overall) was that team. Not only were the Blazers playing in their first district title game, the program had never even won a D-3 playoff game before last week.
So, when undefeated (22-0) behemoth Cumberland Valley strolled onto the turf to warm up for its 5:30 encounter with the Blazers, it had the sense of a pending coronation. After all, the Mid-Penn Conference champions boasted striker Rachael Dorwart, a 43-goal scorer this fall who doubles as a member of USWNT U-17 team.
Thing is, nobody on Boone’s sideline cared. The Blazers were, in head coach John Pantone’s words, “playing with house money.” That approach was reflected in the loose, unintimidated play Pantone’s club displayed for 80-plus minutes.
It paid off when Alayna Roesener beat CV goalie Sydney Bruckner 4:19 into the first overtime to give Daniel Boone a stunning 2-1 win over the Eagles and with it, the D-3 AAA title.
“They hadn’t seen a team that plays like us, and I think we took them by surprise a little bit,” Pantone said. “This is the most amazing group of ladies I’ve ever known. It’s unbelievable what they’ve been able to accomplish. I feel so happy for them.
“They just believed. There was no pressure on them. No matter what, I told them they were champions in my mind. If they come out loose, and play free, they have every chance to win this game. Somebody has to. Why not them?”
Roesener took a feed from Madison Spitko from just inside the box, dribbled three feet and slotted a bending shot through Bruckner’s legs to the lower far post to end it.
“It just feels amazing,” Roesener said. “We’ve been working hard this whole season. We’ve been taking a historic route, winning the first (district playoff) game in our school’s history and to continue to win and now be district champions, it’s just amazing.
“I’m breaking down, getting ready to cry, looking for my teammates. Incredible way to end it … I wanted to end it so bad.”
Boone’s gold medal had to survive a harrowing second half in which the Blazers had to fend off a CV attack looking increasingly dangerous and intent on ending it within the 80, with Dorwart manning the point. The Eagles fired six second half shots on goal, but Boone keeper Makenzie Witzel stopped them all.
CV outshot the Blazers 11-3. Witzel stopped 10.
“We created a ton of chances,” CV head coach George Gemberling said. “They (Boone) are scrappy in there and they are physical. They did a good job finishing. They’re scrappy inside the six and they make things happen.”
Boone took an improbable 1-0 lead with 20:19 left in the first half, when Kayleigh Kardos flashed in the box from seemingly nowhere off Taylor Carroll’s direct kick from 20 yards out and headed it past Bruckner.
That score held up until Dorwart capped CV’s increasing pressure after the break with a low-liner that beat Witzel from roughly 10 yards to knot it a 1-all with 28:45 to go. She dribbled in from 20 out to convert.
The Eagles continued to press, but couldn’t find a second. And that breath of life enabled the Blazers to regroup before the overtime session.
“We went at ‘em but they took everything we had,” Gemberling admitted. “I thought we were getting around them, but they did a great job. Whenever we went to middle of the park they put three (defenders) right in front of us. I think it was a great tactic by them to try and park the bus a bit and wait on the counter.
“We’re deep and we subbed girls in, trying to find matchups and create chances. We just weren’t able to find it tonight.”
NOTES >> Boone will face District 1 fifth-seed Central Bucks South in the first round of Tuesday’s PIAA Class AAA playoffs, site and time to be determined.
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