HAZLETON — After battling through 110 minutes of compelling and dramatic soccer against Camp Hill in the state quarterfinals, the fate of Bloomsburg’s magical postseason run rested on penalty kicks.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, it wasn’t the ending they were hoping for.
Camp Hill (15-8) converted all four of its penalty kicks in the shootout, while Bloomsburg missed on its first two attempts and never recovered.
With the 3-2 win, District 3 runner-up Camp Hill (15-8) faces District 4 runner-up East Juniata in the Class 1A state semifinals on Tuesday. Bloomsburg defeated East Juniata 3-0 in the district championship game 10 days ago.
“We actually practiced penalty kicks once this season,” Camp Hill coach Jared Latchford said. “So, that was really good. I said to the girls afterwards, ‘I guess we didn’t need to practice them more,’ because I don’t think they could have hit those kicks any better.”
Bloomsburg (13-8-3) hadn’t surrendered a goal in five playoff games, but after 404 minutes and 55 seconds of shutout soccer, the Panthers’ defense finally cracked. Sheridan Reid scored off a corner that opened the scoring and gave Camp Hill an early lead less than five minutes in.
“It was huge, because when we get up, we have the intensity and it’s just a great feeling,” Reid said. “Getting the first goal, normally in the beginning of the season, we sat back and that would change the score. We needed that first goal so we could pick up our intensity.”
Facing a deficit for the first time in the postseason, Bloomsburg easily dealt with the early difficulty. Lexi Thrush, who was her team’s best player throughout the game, won a race to a loose ball against goalkeeper Kendal McCall and promptly deposited the ball into an empty goal to get the equalizer.
“The goalie came out too late to it, and I took a touch around her,” Thrush said. “It was placed perfectly in the goal. We have so much heart. This whole season, even when we were down by two goals, we would come back. We all wanted it so bad today. It just didn’t work out for us.”
Just like the Lions did early in the first half, they struck for a go-ahead goal early in the second half. A rare miscue by the Bloomsburg defense led to a scoring opportunity, and Reid cashed in on it. The junior took a pass from Anne Johnson and found the back of the net to give Camp Hill a 2-1 lead with 34:49 left in regulation.
“It kind of like came out of nowhere,” Reid said. “There was miscommunication between the goalie and the center back. I kind of assumed it was going to go over (the goalkeeper’s) head, and just poked it over her.”
Faced with another one-goal deficit, Bloomsburg didn’t blink in the face of adversity. The Panthers came right back with some strong offensive play and had Camp Hill on its heels. Marissa Keyser headed a ball that bounced off the crossbar, but a short time later Kailey Zentner came through with a highlight-reel goal. Zentner came flying in and headed a ball past McCall off a beautiful pass from Haley Widom that once again drew Bloomsburg even on the scoreboard.
“Kailey Zentner is amazing,” Widom said. “We were counting on her there, and she stepped up.”
Bloomsburg’s hopes of winning were dealt a blow when leading scorer Paige Temple was disqualified when she received her second yellow card with 1:41 left in regulation. Temple was not on the field for overtime and could not participate in the shootout.
In the extra sessions, Camp Hill had a slight edge in play. Especially in the second overtime, Bloomsburg played more of a defensive style and limited the speedy Camp Hill forwards from creating quality scoring chances.
“Their attack was really fast,” Widom said. “We weren’t used to that. Their defense wasn’t amazing, but their attack was nothing we’ve experienced.”
It didn’t take long in the shootout to see where things were headed. Reid connected on the first shot, and once Ava Brackett hit on the second, Bloomsburg was down 2-0. Keyser beat McCall to pull Bloomsburg to within 3-1, but Bella Hoffer scored in the fourth round to make Camp Hill a favorite to reach Hershey and play for a state championship next Saturday.
“We’re fighters — there’s nothing else to say,” Widom said. “We were the better team. We just couldn’t finish it. We fought to the end, that’s all that matters. Everyone gave their best effort.”