HERSHEY — Nearly 100 minutes of scoreless play built a mountain of tension in Tuesday’s PIAA Class AA girls soccer semifinal game between Saucon Valley and Trinity.
And when the game approached what could’ve been its most tense moment in double overtime, Trinity’s Katie Lenz just cut loose.
A rushed free-kick goal from Lenz was the difference in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Panthers. The Shamrocks are now just one win away from a PIAA title.
Trinity plays its last game of the postseason on Friday, when it takes on Donegal — a 1-0 winner over Allentown Central Catholic — in the state championship game Friday at 1 p.m.
“I knew if we kept our intensity, we’d get a goal,” Lenz said. “We really wanted it.”
Lenz wanted the game so bad she wasn’t going to wait any longer than she had to.
With 99 minutes eclipsed, Lenz found herself with the ball right in front of the penalty box.
Lenz was in traffic with three or four defenders trying to clear the ball.
Lenz, trying to dribble her way through, was tripped and drew a whistle from the official, awarding Trinity a free kick from about 25 yards out.
As Saucon Valley players were scattered about trying to form a defense, Lenz took a shot as soon as she absolutely could. The hard-hit ball sailed over the head of Panthers goalkeeper Kelly Shoenberger and just below the top crossbar on its way to the back of the net.
Trinity was thrilled. Saucon Valley was stunned.
Lenz raised her arms in the air — a play the ‘Rocks had been “working on all season” had just sent Trinity to the state title game.
“We’ve been stressing that play all year,” Shamrocks coach Terry Mull said. “In high school, most coaches set up a wall and a defense to defend a free kick.”
But the Panthers weren’t fast enough to keep up with Lenz, and admittedly, they were taken off guard by the rushed restart.
“We weren’t ready, we were still organizing our defense and maybe some of the girls were still arguing the call,” Saucon Valley coach Stevie Ochse said. “That was one of the first times we’ve seen a (rushed restart) all season.”
It was an exclamation point of an ending for Trinity (24-2), which out-shot Saucon Valley 9-2 but trailed the Panthers 5-1 in corner kicks.
Despite its two shots, Saucon Valley (19-5) put pressure on the Trinity defense all game, and the Shamrocks responded with solid defensive play, whether that meant winning critical one-on-one matchups or clearing the ball on corner kicks.
Lenz, Mull and even Ochse were full of praise for the Shamrocks defense.
“Our defense was phenomenal, it kept us in the game,” Lenz said.
“We showed a lot of composure and experience, even though we have three sophomores back there,” Mull said. “Speed is not a problem for our defense. We practice against our own speed all season. If we can contain each other, I feel like we can contain others.”
The most impressive part of the Trinity defense may have been its ability to make a stop and then a fast transition to the offense. Shortly after thwarting a Panthers corner kick in the first overtime, Trinity was moving the ball up the field to attack.
The quick-moving Shamrocks nearly came out of the play with a goal, but Trinity’s Alicia Mirando just missed her uncontested shot, which was wide-left.
Still, Trinity was knocking the door and had a good feeling for the rest of the game.
“I never had the feeling we were going to go into penalty kicks,” Mull said.
Finally, in the second overtime, Lenz came up with the game-winner. It was a huge goal for a Trinity girls soccer program that had never even made the PIAA tournament before this season. And now, the Shamrocks will be playing for the state title.
“I’m kind of in disbelief,” Lenz said. “We’re so close to being champions, I don’t even know what to say.”
From the losing side, Ochse was proud of her Saucon Valley team, a representative of District 11.
“A lot of people though we’d get killed today,” Ochse said. “But we’re catching up. District 11 is proving it can hold up against District 3 schools.”
Now it’s on to the big game. Coach Mull could make one guarantee.
“We’ll give (Donegal) a game,” Mull began, “I hope it’s the best game they’ve ever had and that we take the gold medal.”