CARLISLE - Midway through Monday's Commonwealth Division field hockey game between Mifflin County and Carlisle, the Thundering Herd sat precipitously on a one-goal lead.
For a team that hasn't won a league game all year, that was probably enough to give the home team a lift. It wasn't enough to carry the Herd against a team that's on a mission, though.
Before seven minutes ticked away in the second half, the contest decidedly turned in favor of the visitors. Sam Peters scored twice and Whitney Strohecker added a goal and an assist in what became a 4-2 victory by the Huskies, who with the win, clinched eligibility for the District 6 Class AAA tournament.
But it's about more than that - the field hockey team, which was the first since the school's creation to win a district championship, reasserted itself as the program that, in the early going, has set the standard for success that the school's other teams aspire to. With Monday's win, the Huskies can finish no worse than .500 overall and in Mid-Penn Conference play - and they still have two shots on the calendar to make this a winning season.
The Carlisle game, played in the early afternoon because most Mid-Penn schools were off for Columbus Day, didn't roll quickly to the favor of the eventual winners. Well, actually it did - the Huskies zoomed upfield and forced a corner to start the contest. But just as quickly, the ball went the other way, and it was the Herd that was playing the penalty corner.
The home team had a field advantage, in the sense that Carlisle was more familiar with its own surface, one of the few grass fields in the division and one that was as lush as the rough on a well-manicured golf course. It took awhile for the Huskies to adjust to a game of hitting the ball instead of pushing it.
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Mifflin County hosts State College Wednesday
It got even more frustrating late in the first half, when Carlisle's McKenzie Miller beat the Mifflin County defense, drove the ball into the circle and sent it past Jordan Myers for the first goal of the game. The Herd was capitalizing at that point on what could be called the weak spot for Mifflin County, the one that was demolished by last spring's graduation ceremony.
"We have two sophomores and a freshman back there," Mifflin County coach Tish Maclay explained. "That's tough, and that's a lot of pressure on them. I do see them getting better - I think they made some progress today. We're going to continue to work on that part of our game."
The offense was its own worst enemy at that point, too - foot calls in the circle turned away several challenges on the Carlisle goal, and a flurry of corners in the final minute of the half gave Mifflin County opportunities, but only one seriously strong shot, and the defense turned that one away.
"We got down early. We hit the ball through the sticks and weren't taking advantage of what they were giving us," Maclay said. "But they came out fired up in the second half. I think that shows some toughness about this team."
Fired up? On fire, more like. And the Huskies burned Carlisle quickly in the second, scoring with just two minutes gone when Peters took a ball from Sabrina Boring in sustained play after a corner to tie the score. Another minute and a half passed and the Huskies put another one away, a cross from Strohecker to Peters to set up a lead that would never be relinquished.
Three more minutes, and Strohecker killed with a reverse-stick effort when she got behind the keeper on a pass from Kezia Loht. Midway through the second, Macie Lucas got help from a pair of the youngsters on the team when Hannah Kerstetter carried the ball into the circle, and Sarah Neff got it to Lucas for the game's final tally.
In between those two, Carlisle made it a little closer with a Haley Shughart goal that was the result of an upfield drive that started when a foot call against the Herd was missed because the official was inside the play and the touch was on the outside.
Mifflin County moves to 8-6 overall, 7-5 in the division with a huge game against State College, its only potential District 6 playoff opponent, looming. That will be the team's senior day, at home Wednesday.
"Hopefully when we get against a rival team like State College in Wednesday they come out fired up and ready to play 60 minutes. Last time we played State College, they were way more fired up to play us than we were them," Maclay said.
"We're not playing the kind of hockey that I would expect us to be playing right now, but I know we're capable of playing that kind of hockey," she said. "I think there are some games we lost that we coulda, shoulda won. That's behind us now and what we're really looking for is to make a push into the postseason."