Thunder road

BMS advances to quarters for second time

Sentinel photo by JEFF FISHBEIN Belleville Mennonite’s Leah Echard moves the ball ahead of Ellis School’s Emma Bisello in their PIAA Class A first-round field hockey game at Bald Eagle Area Tuesday. Trailing the play are the Thunder’s Elizabeth Miller and Ellis’ Abigail Stubenhofer.

WINGATE — As the second half of Tuesday’s PIAA Class A first-round field hockey game got underway at Bald Eagle Area, the last vestiges of the day’s sunshine lit the faces of Belleville Mennonite’s 11.

Something was shining on the Thunder long before that, though.

Two goal a minute apart before 15 minutes of playing time lapsed were enough for Belleville Mennonite, which rode those to a 2-1 victory over Ellis School.

It was the first state win for the program since 2007 — there was an appearance in 2011 — in the first contest with a WPIAL (District 7) team other than Shady Side Academy. The victory means the Thunder (15-5) will play District 2 runner-up Holy Redeemer, a 2-1 winner over District 3’s Boiling Springs, on Saturday.

It’s just the second time the Thunder have made it to the state quarterfinals.

Belleville Mennonite’s beginning was somehat underwhelming as both teams bounced around like a tennis match. The Tigers finally got the ball downfield and drew a quick pair of penalty corners — they had a 5-1 advantage in the opening half — having seen that spreading the Thunder defense created the space needed to play for the goal.

“There was a definite switch. We came out a little bit flat and then all of a sudden we found some motivation,” Belleville Mennonite coach Morgan Foote said.

But, direction of the game — not to mention a lot of early calls — favored the District 6 team, and the Thunder took advantage, playing for the goal with the first real open-field attempt of the game. It would have been good — at least, the officials thought so, which is why when the ball dinged off the foot of an Ellis player a penalty stroke was awarded.

Melissa Yoder converted it to give Belleville Mennonite a lead at the 18:46 mark.

The Thunder kept the ball in the end a bit longer, and just 67 seconds after the stroke, a ball that ricocheted off Tiger goalie Courtney Baldwin and Leah Echard batted it into the goal.

“We told them coming into this game we wanted them to score. Our goal was to score in the first five minutes,” Foote said. “It’s very helpful to control the game and by scoring first you begin to control the game.”

Belleville Mennonite — much shorter on the roster with just the 11 starters — played smart after that, keeping its midfielders at midfield to help provide a defensive boost. The Thunder still proved to be the faster team to the ball, moving swiftly and freely upfield.

In the second half, everything was even for the most part as the Tigers learned how to slow Belleville Mennonite and the Thunder limited corner opportunities. Adjusting to the surface as the game progressed played a role in that.

“Our defense I thought was not at its finest tonight,” Foote said. “You can tell Ellis has played on turf, their home field is a turf field and we don’t see it very often. You could see we just didn’t go as low as they did and got foot calls because of that, especially in the circle.”

Before the midpoint of the half, Ellis caught a break but the Thunder stood tall as Sarah Farley was green carded for cutting off a breakaway; even short for two minutes, the Thunder still maintained control over the game.

But it became a one-goal game with 10 minutes left when Olivia Simon put the Tigers on the board. That goal could have been matched just inside the two-minute park when a lofting shot was bounced out by Belleville Mennonite’s sophomore goalie Rachel Sunderland, the save of the season.

“They won their district game in the last five seconds. The girls were prepared for them to play hard in the last five to 10 minutes,” Foote said. “Rachel was really aware of that. She made the game right there.”