HUMMELSTOWN – Extended possession of the soccer ball can cause defenses to become flat-footed. And a flat-footed defense is more likely to yield scoring chances.
But extended possession of the soccer ball can also limit an opponent’s scoring chances.
Lancaster Mennonite’s ability to possesses the ball was instrumental in it ending one of the most successful boys’ soccer seasons in Annville-Cleona history, Thursday night at Lower Dauphin Middle School. The Blazers blanked the Little Dutchmen 1-0 in a quarterfinal match of the District Three Class AA playoffs.
It was a familiar result for Annville-Cleona, which had dropped two previous, regular-season meetings with Lancaster Mennonite, all by shutout. The only goal of last night’s game was scored by the Blazers unassisted, less than nine minutes into it.
Annville-Cleona, which was making its first District Three playoff appearance since 2001, concluded its campaign at 14-5-1. Three of those losses came at the hands of LMHS.
The Little Dutchmen had reached the quarterfinals with a 2-0 triumph over Boiling Springs on Monday. The Blazers, the defending PIAA Class AA champion, barged into Monday’s semifinals with a 15-7 mark.
“Realistically, they’re a little more technically sound than we are,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Ray Kreiser of the Blazers. “We were working on bending and not breaking. And catching them on the counter attack. Strategy-wise, the game played out the way we expected. We didn’t have a lot of opportunities, but the ones we had were good.
“In the first half, I wasn’t real happy,” Kreiser continued. “We gave them too much respect, and we’ve done that in the past. In the second half you saw a totally different team. They’re (the Blazers) a very technical team. But we closed that space and cut down on their chances.”
“It’s always a tough match with them,” said Annville-Cleona senior star Joshua Light. “In past years they always dominated us. We definitely had a lot more possession than the first time we played them. Our guys always play tough.”
Lancaster Mennonite’s domination of the time of possession was most apparent in the first half, and directly led to its goal, a 35-yard strike by sophomore Eric Bailey, with 31:13 showing on the clock.
After the Blazers had knocked the ball around and sustained pressure on the Annville-Cleona goal and netminder Justin Ulrich, Bailey pounced on a loose ball outside the box. With his left foot, Bailey boomed a hard shot that eluded the out-stretched Ulrich and came to rest in the far side of the net.
“We didn’t get a real strong clear on the ball,” said Kreiser. “It took a funny spin, and to their player. He (Bailey) put it the one place where there was an opening. He hit the perfect shot, and the ball sort of found him.
“Basically it comes down to each team is going to get two or three chances,” added Kreiser. “They found it on one. They had a lot of shots, but that was their best chance. I talked to our goalie and he said he could feel the ball skim his fingertips. That’s how close it was, or we’d still be playing.”
“All I remember is it (the Blazer goal) being around the 25-30 yard line,” said Light. “The ball set up for their player. No one could get to it. Their kid buried it. There was nothing our keeper could do.”
The time of possession was certainly more equal in the second half than it was in the first. And the Little Dutchmen’s best scoring chances came in the second 40 minutes of action.
With 11:20 remaining, freshman Matt Light uncorked a good drive, but it too went over the net.
“It’s a lot of years,” said Kreiser of A-C’s playoff appearance in 2001. “We had a heck of a crowd here. This is what playoff soccer should be. But we didn’t embarrass ourselves. We took the state champs to the wire.
“That (the Blazers’ playoff experience) has to mean something,” continued Kreiser. “They’re a perennial power. They’re used to this atmosphere and we’re not. Our guys were nervous at the beginning of the game. We tried to calm them down, but they’re kids.
“It was a really good game. Someone had to get the win and someone had to lose. Unfortunately it was us.”
“I thought we played pretty well,” said Light. “In the second half we played stronger, and dominated a little bit of the time.
The final shot total favored Lancaster Mennonite by a 16-4 margin. The Blazers took six corners to the Little Dutchmen’s none.
“This was our best season since 2001, without a doubt,” said Kreiser. “When you talk to the guys it’s ‘us’, it’s ‘we’. They’re a team. This is a coach’s dream team. They came every day to work, to get better. Early in the season we told them, ‘you’re either going to be a group of individuals and win six games, or you’re going to be a team that’s tough to beat’.
“This will hurt,” Kreiser added. “But the sun will come up tomorrow. We’ll remember the good season we had and how far we came. We’re not going to focus on the last loss.”
“It’s huge,” said Light of the Little Dutchmen’s playoff appearance. “I think I heard it was the first time since 2001 that we played a district game. It was a totally different year. This year has been incredible.
Kreiser said he wouldn’t be surprised if the two teams which beat Annville-Cleona this season – the Blazers and Pequea Valley – met for the District Three Class AA championship.
“They were somewhat similar,” said Kreiser of his team’s three encounters with Lancaster Mennonite this season. “The 3-0 game Josh Light was out sick. We made some mistakes because we were playing people out of position. But the first game and this game were very similar.
“The key to them (the Blazers) is wave after wave of recruits,” Kreiser continued. “Look at their roster, half of their kids are from Lancaster. They don’t have football. It’s (soccer) their sport. They’re known state-wide for soccer.”