MECHANICSBURG — The third time's the charm for the Mechanicsburg girls soccer team.
After falling in the District 3 Class 3A finals the last two seasons, the Wildcats finally claimed the title and trophy with a 1-0 victory over Lampeter-Strasburg on Tuesday evening at Northside Elementary School.
"It feels great," Mechanicsburg head coach Jake June said. "You think about this moment from the beginning of the season, but you have to put the work in to get here. We've been so close the last couple of years. I just wanted it for the girls. I'm so proud of them, from the seniors who've been here four years to the freshmen who've bought in. It's a very deserving group."
The difference-maker for No. 4 Mechanicsburg (14-2) came in the 63rd minute as a defender dragged down Halle Engle just outside the penalty box. Engle took the direct kick for the Wildcats, slipping it around the Lampeter-Strasburg wall of three and out of the reach of the Pioneers goalkeeper for the score.
"I saw the goalie was towards her far post initially," Engle said. "She had a wall set up towards the near post, and I knew it was open. I just had to get it low because the wall was ready for a ball right at them. I just curled it around them, and the goalie couldn't get to it.
"I knew it was in. She wasn't getting that."
The goal, Engle's 29th on the attenuated season, allowed Mechanicsburg to collectively exhale as it finally broke through for the advantage.
Lampeter-Strasburg (10-4-2) never relented in the final 17 frantic minutes as the Pioneers looked for the equalizer. But the Wildcats backline and goalkeeper Ari Frey held firm to preserve the first district title in school history for the girls soccer program and any girls program.
"We knew they were a great side, and they run a lot of numbers forward and put pressure on you when they can," June said of No. 6 Lampeter-Strasburg. "It was a back and forth game, and I thought we created some good opportunities."
Mechanicsburg outshot Lampeter-Strasburg 11-3, including seven after the halftime break. Pioneers goalkeeper Maggie Johnson came up big on multiple occasions to keep her side in the match and within striking distance.
"We've been in this situation for our third year now, and especially it being my senior year, I just wanted to come out and get the win," forward Elena Hinkson said. "We needed confidence going into the second half to come out strong and not flat like we have the last couple of games getting scored on early."
With 10 seniors on the playoff roster, Mechanicsburg relied on its experience and veteran leadership to remain calm and poised as the minutes ticked off the clock. The Wildcats also got significant contributions from a trio of sophomores as Frey, midfielder Julia Mayernick and center back Kate Deluca rose to the occasion.
"It feels awesome, especially because we had a bunch of young girls stepping up," senior center back Lauren Costello said. "I'm super proud of them, and everyone has worked hard. We just wanted it more."
"We talked about being deserving, but having to go out and earn it still," June said. "I thought they played a heck of a game tonight and earned it."
With the victory, Mechanicsburg enters the PIAA Class 3A as the lone Class 3A entry from District 3 in the reduced field. The Wildcats host the opening round on Saturday at 1 p.m. against Hollidaysburg out of District 6.