BY JEFF FALK
MOUNT JOY – Had there been a game clock, the Elco girls’ soccer team would’ve seen that time was running out on its season. The good news for the Raiders is that there’s a new one starting in about three months.
Elco endured a 1-0 season-ending loss at Donegal on Wednesday evening, in an opening round game of the District Three Class AA playoffs. The lone goal of the contest was scored less than a minute after halftime, on a free kick off the foot of Indian junior Mollie Hoffman.
The Raiders’ third straight setback ended their spring campaign at 12-7. Elco, which had advanced to last year’s District Three Class AA final game, entered this postseason as the district’s tenth seed.
Donegal, the seventh seed which had defeated Elco by an identical 1-0 score during the Lancaster-Lebanon league regular season, improved to 12-5 overall.
During the 2012-13 scholastic season, girls’ soccer will be contested in the fall.
“Things pretty much went the way they did against them (the Indians) the last game,” said Elco head coach Steve Keller. “We had a lot of chances like last time and they scored on a free kick like last time.
“It’s tough when the ball is sitting there so long (on the free kick) and no one is moving,” Keller added. “It was a well-placed shot. A foot lower and it would’ve been saved. A foot higher and it would’ve been over the cross bar.”
“The last three games were hard-fought games,” said Elco senior captain Amy Walker of losses to Cedar Crest, Hempfield and Donegal. “But we ended the season as a team. It was just unlucky. We didn’t make our shots.”
Following a tightly played first half in which the Raiders experienced difficulties generating offense, Donegal needed just 50 seconds of the second half to get on the board. On a direct kick from 25 yards out, Hoffman bent a ball around Elco’s four-person wall and into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Hoffman placed the ball in the only location where Elco keeper Nicole Walker couldn’t come up with it.
“The thing I remember is telling the girls at halftime, ‘You’ve got to play hard from the beginning and win the ball,'” said Keller. “Starts like that are so important, especially at the start of a half.
“It was set up perfectly,” Keller added. “It was in the sun. The field’s terrain was in their favor. You play so hard for 80 minutes, and there wasn’t anything the players could do about it. It was a perfectly placed ball.”
“We just didn’t come out to play in the first half,” said Walker. “And we didn’t start strong in the second half. On the free kick, I don’t think we were ready. It was, unfortunately, a great shot and Nikki couldn’t get it.”
Elco executed ten corner kicks and enjoyed an increasing amount of success with them as the game wore on. In the final 25 minutes of action, the Raiders generated two dangerous scoring chances from headers off corners.
The first clanged off the Donegal cross bar, while the second, which came off the forehead of senior forward Carissa Mehaffey, drifted far right. Elco also came up with a late near-miss off the left foot of Amber Hartranft.
“Amber at the end, took that left-footer that was just over the net,” said Keller. “It’s so stinking hard to end like this. But when you think about who we played, we played some good teams. I thought we played well offensively this year. I think we had at least 47, 48, 50 goals.
Elco did not attempt a first-half shot. The Raiders registered four in the second half, while the Indians totalled eight shots.
The playoff game was staged without the benefit of a scoreboard clock.
“I don’t know if it matters,” said Keller. “The coaches all knew how much time was left. But I guess it can make a difference if you can’t look up and see it.”
“Yeah, it matters,” said Walker. “If we would’ve seen there was ten minutes left the intensity would’ve picked up. It matters that the players didn’t know.”
Wednesday also marked Raider assistant coach Derek Fulk’s last game with the girls’ soccer program. When girls’ soccer moves to the fall, Fulk will assistant-coach the Elco boys’ team.
“It’s amazing that we don’t have a year to wait,” said Keller. “Three months and we’re at it again. We have such a great junior group to build off of.
“This year was almost exactly like last year,” Keller concluded. “The record is really close. Last year we got a little better draw in districts. But playing a team from your league in the first round of districts is tough.”