BY JEFF FALK
MANHEIM – Whether it was to space or to anyone in particular, Haleigh Echard was knocking on the door.
Turns out Cece Fiorentino was indeed at home – and the freshman answered the door.
The Echard-to-Fiorentino connection turned out to be money for the Cedar Crest girls’ soccer team on Wednesday night at Manheim Central’s Elden Rettew Field, in the semifinals of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs. Their collaboration, 3:29 into overtime, was decisive, as Cedar Crest edged Lampeter-Strasburg 3-2 in a hard-fought, emotional and well-played match.
From the left wing, Echard boomed a 30-yard service to the far post, where Fiorentino was supposed to be. After settling the pass, Fiorentino missed on her first attempt, before getting enough of the second to dribble the game-winner into the net.
It was the first and only shot of the 15-minute sudden-death overtime session.
The win moved Cedar Crest to 16-4 overall and into Saturday’s 12:45 p.m. league championship match, opposite Cocalico, a 1-0 victor over Hempfield in the other semifinal, back at Central’s Elden Rettew pitch. The Falcons have never won a Lancaster-Lebanon League championship in girls’ soccer.
“I told the girls going into overtime, ‘Let’s get this done early,'” said Cedar Crest rookie head coach Lauren King. “It (Echard’s feed) just seemed like a service. It was a great ball into the box. I was hoping someone would get a toe on it, and someone did.
“I don’t know how Lampeter-Strasburg is feeling, but I think the difference was heart,” King continued. “The girls just wanted it. They were screaming before overtime, ‘We want this.'”
Fiorentino’s ‘golden goal’ was one of three tallies netted by three different Cedar Crest forwards. Also finding the back of the net for the Falcons were senior Amanda Harmuth and junior Gabby Boehmer, while Echard owned the midfield and collected a pair of assists.
“I love that we have a variety of things we can do and some flexibility with our scoring,” said King. “It’s great when you see it all come together as a team. We’re finishing and obviously Haleigh is serving great balls.
“You can ask anyone,” King added. “I”m almost as nervous as the girls. I’ve got a heart in it. I wanted it jut as much as the girls. But yeah, it was an emotional match.”
The Pioneers had tied the score at two 8:26 into the second half on a somewhat fortuitous bounce.
A long ball from a hard angle by L-S’s Morgan Stoe was sent into the Cedar Crest goal mouth. The ball caromed off the far post and hit Falcon netminder Nikki Harner before settling into the back of the net.
“I don’t want to say it was lucky, but it was a fortunate goal,” said King, whose club edged Lampeter-Strasburg 2-1 during the regular season. “It looked like it was going to go across the net, and it hit the post and went in. But we wanted to stay positive.
“We faced Lampeter-Strasburg earlier,” continued King. “We knew they were a good team. But when we picked up the pressure, they started panicking and losing the ball.”
The Falcons opened a 2-1 lead 25:23 before intermission, when Echard posed as a point guard leading a Cedar Crest fast break. She pulled one defender to her before sliding a pass to Boehmer, who, with one quick touch of her right foot, struck a ball along the ground that found the inside of the left post.
“I don’t think we’re necessarily playing better,” said King. “But we’re playing harder. Injuries have hurt us and the girls realize they need to play harder. Now their goals are in sight.”
Cedar Crest answered a Lampeter-Strasburg opening tally with one of its own, exactly four minutes later. Off an extended corner kick, the Falcons did a good job of possessing the ball in the box, and after an initial attempt, Harmuth pounced on a rebound and drilled a left-footer to the far corner.
“Coming into the league playoffs I guess our quote was, ‘We want to give it a long run,'” said King. “We wanted to be in the final. But we wanted to take it game-by-game.”
The Pionners came out strong, took the play to Cedar Crest and their early flurry resulted in a 1-0 lead.
Lampeter-Strasburg clanged a shot off the crossbar and it ricocheted out to Krista Mellinger, who put another well-placed shot back on goal. A sprawling and falling Harner made the save initially, but when she hit the ground, the ball popped loose. And Taylor Lininger was there to tap it home.
“Haleigh is a very hard-working girl,” said King, when asked about Echard’s play in the midfield. “She is absolutely dominant on the field. That’s her home. She knows what to do with the ball. She plays a huge role, but she has girls around her too. She’s a key girl on the team, but she clearly couldn’t do it without the other girls.
“Three different girls scored goals for us tonight,” added King. “Haleigh’s a play-maker. She just runs the field. It’s nice to know the girls can read her, and know when she’s going to play the ball and serve it.”
Cedar Crest made the best of its nine shots on goal, while the Pioneers collected six attempts. Lampeter-Strasburg took three corner kicks to the Falcons’ two.