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Ask Avery Pollock her thoughts about shootouts against Wilson, and she’ll respond with her infectious giggle.
“Um, no,” she said.
Had it not been for Pollock’s rocket shot that found the back of the cage in overtime, Lower Dauphin and Wilson were 25 seconds away from having to play a second overtime. The Falcons won 3-2 making it their second championship win over Wilson in 2022.
Lower Dauphin finished 22-3-1. Wilson finished 23-3-1. Cumberland Valley hosted the one-day Saturday PIAA championship games. The Falcons also won the District 3 Class 3A game versus the Bulldogs with the same score in overtime.
Shootouts are the final step to decide a championship game. Lower Dauphin and Wilson finished the championship game in shootouts a few years ago.
“We’re a really good overtime team,” Pollock said. “Everyone was giving 100 percent effort. Vic Kutz was playing midfield (in overtime), which is new and different. She passed it up to me and gave it to me. Coach said she saw it was me and the goalie, and that I looked up. She said she saw ‘eight inches between you and the goalie, and you looked up and just shot it.’”
The playoff atmosphere was in full swing by the time the Class 3A game was underway. Lower Dauphin’s bench and Wilson’s bench were just as much a part of the game as the players on the field. The enthusiasm was off the charts with chants, cheers, support, and a willingness to get in the game if their name was called.
Lower Dauphin broke the ice in the first quarter. On a Falcons corner, the ball was sent to Pollock at the top of the circle. She blasted a shot toward cage, where Katelyn Strawser redirected the ball into it. Pollock and Strawser, both juniors, have been cultivating a powerful dynamic on the field. They are also close friends off the field. Pollock is committed to Liberty University and Strawser to Penn State.
They have established a remarkable chemistry that other players on Lower Dauphin’s squad feeds off. But even powerful duos can be unsettled. Both players were carded during their battle with Wilson.
“I was really frustrated,” Pollock said. “The calls weren’t going our way, we were down. I brought back my composure at the end, and I was able to finish. They were just being very physical even when I didn’t have the ball. I could always feel a body on me. Katelyn probably felt the same way. We would get the ball and there would be three people on us. I think just being down the goal in the final, it frustrated everyone. I think Katelyn’s the calmer one out of the two of us, but together we just reassured each other like coach did.”
Strawser put Lower Dauphin on the board first. Then Wilson landed both of their goals in the second quarter.
Forwards Mia Riccitelli, Erika Culp, and Caroline Horace were on the front lines for the Bulldogs, causing chaos in the circle and trying to find the cage.
Ten minutes into the second quarter, a Bulldog player was brought to the ground by a Falcon block tackle inside the 25, and the call was upgraded to a corner. Emma Staron, a University at Albany commit, seized the moment.
Staron received the insert and released a shot on cage. Lower Dauphin’s goalie Payton Killian made the save, but Staron was already reacting to pick up the rebound. She fired off a second shot, this one on her reverse, and it slammed definitively into the backboard.
On another Wilson corner two minutes from the half, Staron played a key part again. She received an insert from Grace Chisolm and dumped it to Temple University commit Catherine Arentz on her left.
Arentz sent a lifted shot in that made it by Killian with 1:37 on the clock, and the Bulldogs held a 2-1 lead going into the half.
During the quarter breaks, neither did the players on the sidelines nor did Lower Dauphin head coach Linda Kreiser lose faith. The sideline chants were part of the show.
“We call our players that don’t start difference-makers,” Kreiser said. “Their role is to do whatever they can to make the difference. They are cheering in support of the players on the field, and they do that and they have to be ready if their number gets called. If they get the minutes, I’m so proud of them.”
When it was 2-1, Kreiser said she was trying to inject clarity on what needed to be done, especially if the team wanted its “dreams to come true.”
“We had to have better passing, and better corner play,” she said. “I was really thinking if we tied it up, we have a chance to score another one. They had a series of corners at the end of the end. I said to my assistant coach, ‘if we can’t hold them out, it could be Wilson’s championship.’ Wilson is quite dangerous in scoring and we are, too. Wilson came out strong in the second quarter. They took their free hits really quickly. Because they took their free hits really quickly, we had a hard time tackling because we have to be five yards. They did execute really good on two corners. Being down at halftime, in the huddle, we were still confident that we were going to score a goal to tie it up.”
And, even though Killian was scored on, Kreiser knew she’d get right back into it.
“Payton had some key saves there to keep them out and allow us to go into overtime,” she said.
Senior Emmy McCulley, who was injured in the first with a bruised calf, had to take a short break. Laney Johns’ number was called. It was her day.
“She’s a sophomore,” Kreiser said. “She was a difference maker off the bench.”
Johns was positioned about a foot in front of Wilson’s goalie Catharine Wolf, when Strawser gave her a hard ball from the baseline. Johns received, collected, and one-timed it into the goal. Wolf had committed to her left post and was on her knee. It was Johns’ first goal of the season.
“What a better time to score your first goal,” Kreiser said.
The Falcons head coach credited Erin Catalfano and the rest of the coaching staff for doing an “outstanding job.”
Wilson’s sideline crew was in the game as much as Lower Dauphin’s was. At times, they sounded like they were on a rollercoaster with “oohs” and “aahs” as the game unfolded in front of them.
“This team has worked hard since January developing skills and our team culture in order to compete at the highest level this entire season,” said Wilson’s head coach Kim Underwood.
Although Wilson was looking for a state title win to repeat the 2019 season, making it all the way to the final game is still meaningful to the Bulldogs’ program.
“Losing the state final is tough but they will hold on to the memories and all of the life lessons they have learned,” Underwood said.
In 2019, Lower Dauphin and Wilson went to shootouts in the state championship finals where Wilson won 2-1. Kreiser said she was “glad we didn’t go into shootouts.”
“It’s a 50-50 thing,” she said. “I like the game being settled on the field. It was so great to see the ball cross the line. Since 2018, we’ve been in four out of the five finals. Three of the times, we came in second, we know how that feels. I’m just happy for our players, their parents, for our Lower Dauphin field hockey community. For them to experience that, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. They’ll remember it for a lifetime.”