Bears fall to Nazareth in D-11 semis
BETHLEHEM – Pleasant Valley’s surprise performance in the District 11 Class 4A girls’ soccer tournament came to a tough ending on Tuesday at cavernous Liberty Stadium.
Outside of head coach Derek Strohl and his band of courageous players, few expected the Bears to be making a district championship run this season.
But the No. 5 seeded Bears erased No. 4 seed Pocono Mountain West in the opening round, while underrated Nazareth was eradicating the top seed Parkland.
Without a doubt, the outcome wasn’t a sure bet for either squad, and it showed in a scoreless first half, but with almost 14 minutes gone in the second 40-minute session, the Blue Eagles started to use their team speed, cracking the stingy Bears’ defense en route to posting a 3-0 victory.
It was a gut-wrenching defeat for four soon-to-be grads.
“Our seniors were our leaders,” said Strohl. “The first-half the ball didn’t bounce our way. We had a few chances but we just didn’t capitalize. It probably would have given us a little more momentum.”
Instead, the Eagles started to fly using a boot off the foot of Kayley Hynes, who got an assist from Abigail James.
James had dribbled the ball down the right sideline and had the Bears defense collapsing in her direction. She quickly found Hynes all alone in the middle, passed her the ball and the result was the game’s first score at 26:13.
“We were able to get their defense back some,” said Nazareth coach Copeland “Ziggy” Lewis about the way Pleasant Valley was collapsing and trying to defend on the first breakaway goal. “We came in here knowing how they work so hard, so we didn’t want to be out (hustled). They’re a great hustling team. The way they defended us in the first half, you can see how hard they work.”
Pleasant Valley had chances to hit the back of the net, yet it just couldn’t get into sync in the opening 40 minutes. It outshot Nazareth 4-2 in that time span.
Midway through the opening half, the Bears had crowded the cage, getting two point-blank shots that left the fans and the players perplexed. The first shot went off the top right crossbar near the post, and when the ball bounced back in the direction of a Bears player she was in perfect position for a possible score but missed on a header.
“It’s a game of inches, as they say in football. I thought that woke us up, but we couldn’t capitalize,” said Strohl about the missed opportunity off the corner kick which led to the sequence. “In the second half, they got a good cross in for the first goal, and the second goal goes in on a wet, slippery night. We’ve seen those in the past.”
Nazareth’s second score came off a direct kick from near the 30-yard line by Hynes. The shot looked to be blocked by sophomore keeper Samantha Merklin, but in a twist of bad fate, the ball just squirted out of her gloved hands and in for a score.
“Sammy had a great game for us,” said Strohl. “She made a ton of saves. They took advantage of the opportunities that were presented to them. I still say they’re not a team that’s three goals better than us, but they took advantage of their (scoring) chances.”
The final point was moot coming with 7:04 to play off the foot of James.
“We had a great season,” said Strohl “I’ve been here 12 years — five of them as the head coach. This is the furthest we’ve gone. I said in the preseason that we were looking to get into the district tournament and the girls thought I was crazy.”
BIDING ADIEU … The Bears (14-4) four players who will depart are Addison Borger, Elizabeth Wagner, Lucianne Mesce and Danielle DiMarco.
COUNTING THE WAY … Shots on goal had the winners with a big edge, 15-6. PV goalkeeper Merklin was superb with 12 saves.
Nazareth’s Kelly Leszynski turned away six shots.