---- — By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
BERWICK -- There were Greenwood tears long before Crestwood's Chandler Ackers ended the Wildcats' season with her overtime goal Tuesday night.
They flowed hard from Hattie Kuhns and Brittany Fleisher, each of whom believed they would certainly be responsible for a Greenwood loss in the state semifinals when they drew their respective yellow cards.
The fact is, they were both wrong. The Wildcats were a player down for the last several minutes of regulation and then again early in the first overtime. In both instances, they held off the District 2 champion Comets until they could return to even strength and continue the epic battle.
It wasn't until the second extra period that Ackers -- with ailing Greenwood keeper Katie Osborne out of the cage to challenge a corner and Taylor Tompkins having already saved a shot at the line -- controlled a carom near the left post and punched in the 3-2 game-winner at Berwick's storied Crispin Field.
"Not much I can say other than we played a great game and just didn't get the win," said Wildcats coach Kent Houser. "To play seven-short and them not score … It was a great field hockey game -- it's what it's supposed to be for a state semifinal game.
"We just came out on the wrong end of the stick."
Crestwood (22-2), eliminated by Greenwood in last year's state tournament, will play the state runner-up from a year ago, District 1 champion Villa Maria, for the Class AA championship noon Saturday at the Zephyr Sports Complex in Whitehall. The four-time state champion Comets haven't appeared in a final since 2004.
"Tremendous effort by everyone who stepped on that field," said Comets coach Elvetta Gemski, who has 617 career wins in nearly 40 years. "There wasn't a moment where we didn't have pressure from Greenwood. Every second was a threat."
The Wildcats, who were second in District 3 and finished at 20-4-1, also failed to capitalize on a player-advantage when Mary Cronauer drew yellow with 5:47 remaining in the first overtime. No good chances came of it, and Crestwood closed the OT period with a flurry of four corners, momentum that carried over to the second overtime and ultimately to Ackers' goal.
It was the second of a two-corner sequence, the first having resulted in a Casey Cole shot stopped by Wildcats all-state keeper Katie Osborne. On the second, Cole took Ackers' insert near the top, pushed left to Elizabeth Dessoye when Osborne rushed to meet her. A follow-up shot was stoned by Tompkins, and, in the brief scramble that followed, Iowa-recruit Ackers ended it at the 10:31 mark.
The Comets went more than 77 minutes and 15 unsuccessful tries between goals off corner plays, having scored on a Cole blast just 124 seconds into the game.
"I would rate (Greenwood's corner defense) right up at the top. Extremely difficult," said Gemski. "I knew they had a very excellent goalkeeper just based on last year, and I only expected her to be better this year -- and she was."
Osborne, who iced her left knee at every stoppage, made 11 saves -- more than half of them in the second half despite the Wildcats' tremendous play in the period. She had little chance on Cole's game-opening rocket, but was a wall that frustrated the Comets (14 shots) time and again.
"She is what she is," said Houser. "Just a great goalie."
Greenwood was out of synch early, unable to connect with passes in transition in the face of Crestwood's pressure. That changed abruptly in the second half, as the Wildcats earned a remarkable nine corners in less than 15 minutes' time. Toward the end of that string, Tompkins scored a pair of goals less than three minutes apart for a 2-1 lead.
"Coach always pumps us up second half. I feel like we're always a second-half team," said Tompkins. "I feel like we weren't ready to stop playing. We weren't ready to end our season."
The all-state senior mid stopped an insert and then had to regain control near the top of the circle after flyer Morgan Kile disrupted the play for a moment. Tompkins' drive tied the score at the 18:06 mark.
Shortly after, Kuhns took a Mallory Fortenbaugh insert and put a ball on Tompkins in the middle of the circle. She settled it and buried a shot in the low left corner for the lead.
"I just think we stepped it up," said Houser. "We made some adjustments at halftime about what we were doing on their free hits. I thought we were able to get control of the ball a little quicker, and we were making great passes -- putting balls on stick -- where in the first half we weren't doing that."
The Comets were better after Cronauer's equalizer at the 11:41 mark. Greenwood failed to handle a 16-yard hit, and Crestwood's speedy forward charged the right side of the cage for a goal.
About seven minutes later, Kuhns drew her second card, this for violating the 5-yard rule, and was forced to the bench. Tompkins made a defensive save while preserving the tie.
Fleisher drew yellow at 11:29 of the first OT and, again, the Wildcats rose to the occasion. Tompkins busted the only Crestwood corner while Fleisher sat out, and Osborne made a daring stop on a Cronauer rush far from the cage.
"I'm so proud of everyone for sucking it up and just pushing through while playing a player down," said Tompkins.
"I was just so impressed with the effort we gave to start the second half, to tie it up and then go ahead," said Houser. "Then we just couldn't seem to get anything more to go our way."