UNIVERSITY PARK — For 59 minutes Tuesday night, the State College field hockey team had just one penalty corner chance to show for its in-your-face, attacking style.
In the last minute, they got two more chances. But in the end, both of the Lady Little Lions desperate shots were turned aside and State College (13-6-1) dropped its PIAA Class AAA opening round game 1-0 to District 3’s fifth-place finisher Twin Valley (22-2-1) at a frigid Penn State Field Hockey Complex.
“This is very hard to stomach, this loss because we had opportunities to score on multiple occasions,” State College coach Karin Johnson said. “The girls really showed up tonight and we played well as a team. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get the ball into the cage.”
On an evening where the turf was nearly frozen — players slipped and the ball took off on long rolls consistently — the Lady Little Lions’ near-misses were as mind-numbing for them as were the frosty conditions.
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As frost built up along the edges of the turf, State College couldn’t build on momentum generated by a stingy defense that stymied the Raiders’ quick-strike offense again and again.
State College got its first scoring chances off its first penalty corner ten minutes into the game. After Twin Valley goalie Laura Lawson turned the initial shot away, State College senior Lauren Bonness took two more hacks at rebounds sending both shots on net. But Lawson was up to the task and charged out of her cage to kick the ball to safety both times.
“My goalkeeper, in the playoffs, has stepped it up,” Twin Valley coach Brenda Hoffman said. “She’s playing more on the attack and she came in very strong and confident in this game.”
So did the Lady Little Lions, who kept on the attack.
While State College defender Taylor Meily wreaked havoc on Twin Valley’s attackers, constantly shutting the Raiders’ offense down with crafty stickwork then turning the ball quickly back up the field, Lady Little Lion goalie Caroline Moore was a wall in front of her net early.
Moore made a kick save to thwart a rising shot from Kelee Lepage off a penalty corner to keep the game scoreless 24 minutes in.
But six minutes later, the Raiders converted a penalty corner when Lepage passed to an open Ashley Hoffman who buried a shot from 25 feet out.State College opened the second half on fire.
The Lady Little Lions controlled the ball for large portions of the opening minutes of the final half before Taylor Montross picked Twin Valley defender Emily Webster’s pocket deep in her own end.
Montross’s steal and ensuing rush to the Twin Valley goal caught Lawson off balance in the net. Montross fired a shot but it hit the left post.
The Raiders recovered immediately thereafter.
Led by the shifty, speedy duo of Lepage and Hoffman, Twin Valley’s offense dominated the middle portion of the second half. The Raiders spent nearly eight minutes inside their attacking zone and earned four penalty corners — all stymied by State College — in the process.
State College took advantage of a turnover at midfield and Bonness outran her marks down the right sideline. Montross found her way behind the Twin Valley defense and Bonness fed a centering pass her way. Montross wound up but the ball took an odd carom off her stick and just missed the net wide right.
“We had open opportunities that we just didn’t finish,” Johnson said. “The girls played so great together. Such great effort tonight. I’m really proud of them.”
It’ll be the last time all of them play together for State College as the Lady Little Lions had their season end with the loss. Twin Valley will advance to play District 3 champion Penn Manor in the next round.
The Lady Little Lions will graduate 10 seniors from the 2012 squad. Each one has meant a great deal to Johnson, a first-year coach who took over at the start of the season.
“They weren’t sure what to expect and they were the most coachable girls I’ve ever had,” Johnson said of her senior class. “The next few years are going to be growing years for State College field hockey for sure. They really helped lead this team.”