Wildcats stay on course, advance to final four

Wirth scores twice to pace Greenwood

Sentinel photo by JEFF FISHBEIN
Greenwood’s Leah Bryner, third from right, knocks down a ball in front of Moravian’s Ellie Werner during their PIAA Class A field hockey quarterfinal at Warwick Saturday. Behind Bryner is teammate Paityn Wirth and Moravian’s Kate Costantino.

LITITZ — After 30 minutes of play Saturday evening, Moravian Academy had amassed one penalty corner, achieved one shot on goal — and had a 1-0 lead in its PIAA Class A field hockey quarterfinal against Greenwood at Warwick High School.

But this wasn’t the same team that won a state title a year ago, nor the team that eliminated the Wildcats in this same round on the way to Whitehall.

The second half played out a bit differently. Paityn Wirth scored twice as Greenwood advanced on the 2-1 final to the state’s final four.

The Wildcats will meet an old friend in the next round — Newport, the fifth meeting between the two this year — at West Perry High School on Tuesday. The pairing means a Perry County team is guaranteed to appear in the state championship game.

“I thought we really played well tonight. I thought we were clearly the better team,” Greenwood coach Kent Houser said. “We just had to keep staying with it.”

The second half was exactly what you’d expect from a Greenwood game. The Wildcats pushed the ball downfield, forced one penalty corner after another and survived on the innate — yet at times almost unnatural — skill of Paityn Wirth.

Her first run came up empty, three minutes into the second, as she laced the ball through Moravian’s defense to the circle. The shot was blocked, but the Lions’ effort to get back to the other end didn’t last.

Kenedy Stroup brought the ball back into play for Greenwood, and Hailey Womer made the crossing pass from the goalie’s left that would become the tying goal, off Wirth’s stick.

“Our right side … I thought Leah (Bryner), Kenedy and Hailey really played great tonight,” Houser said.

Wirth said the girls on the field knew what was at stake, and what they had to do to get there. Unquestionably thrust into the role of go-to player, she admitted there was reliance on her skill both by the others and by herself — but that it was still a team sport.

“We had to, absolutely. As a team we knew what we needed to do,” she said. “This year, a lot of the girls have stepped up. … Supporting each other, all in all, we can get it done.”

Whatever power the Lehigh Valley team had to that point withered and the game belonged to the tiny school from Millerstown.

The Lions were forced into surrendering one corner after another — one was called so far outside the circle you needed a bus ticket to get there — managing only one more of their own in the game (and one more shot, although not on the corner).

With 19 minutes left to play, it appeared that the Wildcats had sewn it up when everyone heard the familiar sound of the nylon ball crashing into the back of the cage. No, the official said, that was a dangerous hit.

“It’s so hard to get them, to get one called back really hurts,” Houser said.

With 13 minutes to play, a corner almost produced the winning goal for Greenwood; a timely defensive play stopped that one. Another defensive saved by Moravian in the waning minutes of the game was less important — it only stopped the insurance.

With 8:30 on the clock exactly, Wirth did one of her signature spins at the top of the circle and nailed the goal with what stood to be the game winner.

Greenwood’s dominance started quickly — the first corner to the Wildcats came 30 seconds into the contest; they had a pair in under a minute. The District 11 opponent was still confident, even choosing not to sub for an injured player so it would be easier to run her back into the game.

“Particularly that first 10 minutes, we had some opportunities that didn’t go in,” Houser noted. “That’s when you start thinking, ‘Oh, my.’ I’ve been around here long enough to know that if you don’t score when you get that many opportunities it’s going to come back and bite you.”

Greenwood had only five of its 19 corners in that half, none in the last 10 minutes. And by then, the Wildcats were trailing — Cassie Romanczuk scored for the Lions in the 20th minute of the game on their lone corner of the half.

The tide turned after a Moravian timeout — and not to the Lions’ favor. They were playing Greenwood more aggressively for the rest of the game, but had nothing to show for it.

Now, it’s an old friend on a field that borders home for both schools.

“I don’t even want to think about that right now. It’s harder every time you play somebody to play them again,” Houser said. “We just have to go out and play another good game and hopefully play even better the game after that.”

Greenwood 2, Moravian Academy 1

First half

M–Cassie Romanczuk, 19:29.

Second half

G–Paityn Wirth (Hailey Womer), 24:11; G–Wirth, 8:30.

Shots: G 14-2. Corners: G 19-2. Saves: M-14 (Katie Keller), G-1 (Kelsey Sheaffer).