Tigers fall in opening round of state tourney
Offensive pressure is key in most sports and field hockey is no exception. Whichever team can control the ball in the opposition’s defensive zone throughout that game usually comes away with the victory.
In the first half of opening round play of the PIAA Class A state tournament, New Hope-Solebury dominated in that aspect against Northwestern Lehigh, scoring two goals off that pressure. The two goals were all the Lions needed to advance as they defeated the Tigers 2-0n.
It was evident early on that New Hope’s speed at all positions was going to be tough for Northwestern to deal with. The Lions lived in the Tigers’ zone throughout the first half, collecting multiple corners and early scoring opportunities.
At the 15-minute mark in the first half, the Lions pressure paid off as a shot by New Hope that would’ve went in was illegally blocked by a Northwestern defender, setting up a penalty shot by Erin Firth. Firth connected to give the Lions a 1-0 lead midway through the first half.
“We played really well in the first half,” said New Hope head coach Gwen Smith. “The girls played well together and they were doing a good job of looking for each other. The key was high pressure and high-tempo offense. We were able to keep the pressure on.”
As a result of the pressure the Lions struck again right before halftime. A nice put in by New Hope’s Ella Czarnecki’s off a rebound with just 50 seconds left in the first half gave the Lions a 2-0 lead at intermission.
“From about 10 minutes in till the end of the first half they controlled the possession,” said Tigers head coach Lissa Opolsky “That’s a really good team and they kept the pressure on us. They were also able to put in some of their goals and take advantage of that pressure. But in the second half we were able to change some things up and control possession much better.”
Northwestern made some adjustments in the second half and earned some scoring opportunities. The Tigers had a critical opportunity to make the game interesting with a prime scoring chance with around eight minutes remaining. A shot from the left side looked to be heading in, but a diving save from New Hope goalie Elsie Jones kept the ball out of the goal and Northwestern wasn’t able to get another solid chance in the Lions zone.
Still, the improved effort in the second half showed the fight the Tigers have displayed throughout the postseason, which helped get them to the state tournament.
“Being that we’re still a young team and we’re not very experienced it takes us a little bit to get going and in the second half I think the girls did a better job of taking a breath and just playing hockey,” said Opolsky. “But I’m excited. We can build off this. We gained some valuable experience this season and postseason.”
The first-half pressure by the Lions was the key. New Hope had 11 shots on goal, while Northwestern had none.
There is a lot to look forward to for the Tigers next season as they return eight starters from this season’s District 11 runner up.
Entering districts as the No. 7 seed, the Tigers defeated No. 2 Moravian Academy and No. 3 Wilson to get to the title game where they lost to Lehighton, which won it’s first-round state playoff game.