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Relentless Defense, Offense Leads Messiah Over Elizabethtown
Messiah's Natalie Ziegler strikes a penalty score to give the Falcons a 4-0 lead in the Commonwealth's semifinals.

By Cody Swartz, Gomessiah.com Reporter
Grantham PA - Expectations were high for the Messiah Falcons as they prepared to host the Elizabethtown Blue Jays in the Commonwealth Championship semifinal. The Falcons didn’t disappoint, riding a hat trick from junior Juliana Hershey and a shutout performance on the defensive side of the ball en route to a 4-0 blanking of the Blue Jays.

The win, which was arguably Messiah’s strongest all-around output of the season, puts the Falcons in the conference championship game on Saturday. It was also the second win in two weeks against Elizabethtown, the first of which was a defensive struggle that amounted to a 1-0 win. In that game, it was Hershey who broke the scoreless tie with a goal midway through the second half.

Today’s game featured the same stellar defense but a more proficient showing on offense, as Messiah utilized its home turf to its advantage. After the teams battled to a defensive struggle early on, Hershey – Messiah’s leading goal scorer – broke through with a goal, then another, and then another, registering her unprecedented fourth hat trick of the season.

“We were on our own surface for today’s game and last time we had played (Elizabethtown) away on a slower surface,” Trapp said. “This surface we have just highlights our speed much better.”

Messiah dominated ball control in the first half, putting up 13 shots to E-Town’s one and winning the advantage in penalty corners 9-0. Even still, the Falcons couldn’t break through with a score initially.

“It seemed like we worked so hard to get those first two goals,” said Trapp. “We had shot after shot, and finally we got one in. A little while later, Juliana got another one in.”

Hershey’s first goal came at the 21:55 mark, giving Messiah a little bit of breathing room with which to work. The goal typified the play of the two teams early on: Hershey managed to swat at a loose ball in front of the cage, knocking it into the back of the goal.

Just over ten minutes later, Hershey scored again, knocking in a ball that deflected off the left side of the goal and caromed in for a 2-0 Messiah lead. Senior Kourtney Ehly earned the assist on this one, and the Messiah entered halftime with a two-score lead.

The Falcons continued their impressive play into the second half, keeping the Blue Jays in check while tacking on two more goals to the scoreboard.

Midway through the half was Hershey’s third goal, a shot that capped off a wild scurry in front of the net. It was Hershey’s team-leading 21st score of the season, a total that ranks second in the Commonwealth Conference.

“Juliana has just been a very good player for us all year,” Trapp said. “For her to score three goals again today was just awesome.”

Junior Natalie Ziegler capped off Messiah’s scoring for the day with a goal on a penalty stroke at the 57:05 mark. Superb ball control from the midfielders and defenders played a major role in the Falcons’ goals, and Messiah finished with 28 shots to E-Town’s four and 16 penalty corners to E-Town’s two.

“(The midfielders and defenders) were just all over the ball all the time,” Trapp said. “They went hard to every ball and came up with it a large percent of the time.”

This was the first time Messiah had met Elizabethtown in the playoffs since the 2007 season, a game the Falcons won, 4-3, in overtime. Including that game, Messiah has won seven straight against E-Town.

The victory sends Messiah to the conference championship game on Saturday, where the Falcons will play the Alvernia Crusaders – winners of today’s Alvernia vs. LVC semi-final game – again on Messiah’s home field. With a win, Messiah would capture its fifth straight conference championship and 18th in the program’s storied history.

“Alvernia is a very good team,” Trapp said. “They’re fast, they’re aggressive, they will play hard, and they don’t quit, so we will be working on putting in some new corners. We just need to play the same type of intense game that we played today. This was absolutely wonderful the way the girls played and hopefully it will be that kind of a game again.”

Game time for the contest is 1:00 p.m. Admission costs are $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for senior citizens, and $2.00 for students.