BY JEFF FALK
YORK – Playmaker. Leader. Sparkplug. Amber Hartranft serves the Elco girls’ soccer team in many different capacities.
But perhaps her most important role is that of momentum-shifter.
On Tuesday afternoon at West York Middle School, in the opening round of the District Three Class AA tournament, Hartranft proved to be the ultimate momentum-shifter – and ultimately a game-changer. The junior forward’s goal with 12:51 remaining propelled Elco to a thrilling 3-2 triumph over the West York Bulldogs.
Not only was Hartranft’s tally a tremendous individual effort, it also came at a time when the Raiders needed it most. Three minutes before Hartanft’s breakaway, Elco had squandered a 2-0 advantage it had held since the first ten minutes of the match.
But with the win, tenth-seeded Elco, champions of Section Three in the Lancaster-Lebanon League, moved to 13-5 on the year and into Saturday’s 3 p.m. quarterfinal match against 15th-seeded Brandywine Heights, which upset number-two seed Greencastle-Antrim 1-0. That game will be played at Tulpehocken High School in New Schaefferstown.
West York, the seventh seed in the event, finished its fall 10-5-1.
“You could tell that after they scored two goals that Amber thought it was time to take it on her shoulders,” said Elco head coach Steve Keller. “You could tell it turned her up a notch. You need players like that. You’ve got to find another gear and keep pushing.”
“I’m a captain,” said Hartranft. “I’ve got to lead on the field vocally. I need to step up when something happens. I’m not going to score if I don’t get the ball. I feel like the harder I work, the better I play. And my speed helps me.”
With the Raiders reeling from giving up two goals in 1:07, Hartranft stepped in and stepped up.
Hartranft collected a pass from Cassie Shimp at midfield, took advantage of a slip by a Bulldog defender and turned on the jets. She went to her left, broke in alone on WY keeper Steve Gross and dribbled around her, before tucking the decisive goal into the back of the net.
It was Hartranft’s 16th goal in ten games this season.
“I think Cassie Shimp played it to me,” said Hartranft. “Luckily, the way I was running was wide open. I just tapped it by the goalie and into the net.”
“It was a good match,” said Keller. “They (the Bulldogs) have a good team, and we matched up very well. Whenever you come an hour-and-a-half on a bus, it’s nice to go home with a win. We’re through. That’s all that matters. What happened in the game doesn’t really matter.
“I thought we were the better team,” Keller continued. “But at times, we didn’t show it. It was like on paper, we were the better team.”
Elco grabbed a 1-0 lead 7:25 into the match when Katelyn Barry set up Hartranft.
Barry actually created space for Hartranft by holding the ball and bringing two defenders to her. Then she slid the ball to Hartranft, who went right, before ripping a right-footer to the far post.
Three minutes later, Elco expanded its lead to 2-0 when junior defender Delaney Houtz turned opportunist with a loose ball at the top of the West York box. Unmarked and with time to measure Gross, Houtz drilled a well-placed 30-yarder into the top corner of the net.
“I think we were ready,” said Keller. “We warmed up well. At practice yesterday we were focused. Now with time in between games we should be OK. But I’m anxious to get back on a long field. Here we can’t exploit our speed, because you have to have space.
“All but one of our six losses were to teams outside of our section,” added Keller. “So this was good for that. It was a good win outside the section.”
“It was good to come out that way,” said Hartranft. “That’s what we’ve got to do. But we’ve got to stay on the gas and not get comfortable. When we felt comfortable, we stopped winning balls in the air. And they (the Bulldogs) just kept shoving balls down our throats.”
West York ended the first half with a flurry, but Raider keeper Nicole Walker stood tall and turned away a couple of dangerous chances. The Bulldogs picked up on that intensity again in the middle of the second half.
A well-struck ball by West York’s Shyanne Kimbrough with 17:06 left found the top right-hand corner of the Raider net to make it a 2-1 game. Then just over a minute later, Bulldog Darby Sells tied it after collecting a corner kick in front of the Elco goal.
“It was like we’re not quite sure what happened,” said Keller. “It happened so quick. Bang, bang, and it was a tie game.
“We were like hot and cold,” continued Keller. “There were times when we were winning the ball, and there were times when we were backing off. But the deeper you go in districts, the better the teams you’re going to play.”
In the final analysis, West York out shot Elco 13-9 and took ten corners to the Raiders’ six. The difference in the outcome – besides Hartranft’s great individual effort – may have been the four or five spectacular saves made by Walker.
“Between Nicole and the the white goal posts, we played pretty good defense,” said Keller. “Being a senior, she (Walker) really wants this. She’s been such a big inspiration and part of this team since she’s been a freshman.
“I thought Whitney Smith and Ashtin Nell played well for us defensively,” Keller continued. “We knew 36 (Kimbrough) was coming and we just had to decide who was going to be on her. I wanted them to figure it out. I thought Whitney did a great job. She had that attitude that you need.”
Because the top three Class AA finishers from District Three qualify for the PIAA postseason, the Raiders need two more wins to get to states.
“You look at every game individually at this point,” said Keller. “They’re all stepping stones, stepping blocks. You’re trying to work your way to the top. You learn and you move on. And we’ve got to find ways to tweak things that make us better.”
“We want districts, definitely,” said Hartranft. “If we can’t do that, we want to make it to state. I think last year helps motivate us because we were out of the tournament early.”