Hereford had been waiting a year for its shot at redemption and, thanks to a big second half, the Bulls made the most of it.
Trailing by two at the half of the 2A state semifinals Saturday against three-time defending state-champion Glenelg — the team that beat the Bulls in last year’s title game by a goal — Hereford responded with a 6-1 run out of the break to establish a lead it never lost the rest of the way en route to a 9-8 victory.
“We were 100 percent totally stoked to play them again, this was the rematch we wanted. Everyone thought we had no chance last year, but we stuck with them until the end and now this year we just wanted it so much more,” said Hereford senior defender Rachel Saunders. “We knew today was going to be a fight until the end, but we just feel like this is our year.”
It was the Hereford (17-0) defense, anchored by Saunders, which came up with three critical stops in the final two minutes to protect the one-goal lead. The final stop came with just 13 seconds left, as the Bulls’ defense swarmed around Glenelg (14-4) midfielder Jenny Giampalmo and drew a call for illegal cradling.
Hereford received possession and then ran out the clock, celebrating on the field a victory that secures a championship match-up against South Carroll on Tuesday at Paint Branch at 8 p.m.
“I give all the credit to the girls, they were extremely motivated, they followed the game plan and they played all the way until that final whistle,” Hereford coach Anne Ensor said. “You know coming in that it’s going to take a complete team effort to beat a team like that and that’s exactly what we had.”
Glenelg had established a methodical possession-oriented tempo in the early stages of the first half and managed to build a 2-0 lead through the opening 15 minutes courtesy of goals from Emma LeTellier (2 goals) and Kelsey Morali.
Hereford did find some offense before the break, but the Gladiators never trailed during the opening 25 minutes on the way to a 4-2 advantage at halftime.
It was immediately to open the second half, however, that the Bulls changed the speed of the game and ultimately the outcome. Taking advantage of its dominance on the draw control — winning 14 of 19 overall for the game — Hereford started pushing the pace.
Two goals in the first three minutes out of intermission off the sticks of Lindsay Clarke (2 goals) and Isabella Peterson (3 goals and 1 assist) tied the score. Then, after a Glenelg goal from Kirsten Crawford, four more goals in a span of 10 minutes gave the Bulls their largest lead of the game at 8-5.
“They play a very pressure backer defense, so we were going to have better success if we could get in and get something going before they got time to set up,” Ensor said.
Glenelg never quit, eventually getting back within a goal at 9-8 following a score by Emily Nalls (2 goals) with 2:59 remaining in regulation. And the Gladiators did force several turnovers during those final minutes to give its offense a chance for the equalizer.
But Hereford simply buckled under the pressure.
“We were expecting a pretty competitive team and game, which it was. I just think that we didn’t finish and take care of it on offense,” Glenelg coach Nikki Trunzo said. “The defense did a great job coming up with a lot of stuff, and then we just didn’t produce on the offensive end.”
Saunders said that staying confident, along with some huge stops from goalie Lindsey Posner (7 saves), played a huge factor in terms of standing tall late.
“There’s no doubt we were nervous, but we kept saying ‘Calm down, we’ve got this.’ We slid when we needed to, we went to double and never stopped believing in one another,” she said.
Looking ahead to the championship game, Ensor acknowledges that the challenge for her team will be avoiding a let down after such an emotional victory.
“I feel like we are the 1980 men’s ice hockey team against the Russians, where you are so excited that you just beat such a formidable opponent but you still have another one to go,” Ensor said. “That will be another tense game [against South Carroll], but I guess that’s what the playoffs are about.”
Hereford (17-0) — 9, Glenelg (14-4) — 8
Goals: H — I. Peterson 3, Clarke 2, Kaestner 2, J. Peterson 1, Blair 1; G — LeTellier 2, Nalls 2, Sarah Cipolla 2, Crawford 1, Morali 1.
Assists: H — Joyce, J. Peterson, Parker, I. Peterson, Blair; G — Sarah Cipolla, O’Byrne.
Saves: H — Posner 7; G – Torres 8.