---- — By William Bowman
The Daily Item
BERWICK -- It is sort of fitting: If Greenwood wants to reach its first-ever PIAA field hockey title game, the team standing in the way is Crestwood.
For the third consecutive season the teams are meeting in the state tournament, and the winner of tonight's game will play for the title on Friday. It's a place Crestwood has been before, and one Kent Houser hopes the Wildcats finally reach.
"Third year in a row," Houser said with a chuckle Monday night, "but to me, it doesn't make that much of a difference. We try to focus on what we do, getting the ball into the right spots on the field, for the defense to do its part. We want to play our game."
The game is set for 7:30 p.m. at Berwick's Crispin Field. The winner advances to Friday's final in Whitehall against either Donegal or Villa Maria.
Crestwood (21-2) is looking for its sixth trip to the state final, winning titles in 1988, 1998, 2003 and 2004. Greenwood is in uncharted territory. The Wildcats (20-3-1) are looking for their first-ever state title game after advancing to the second round in each of the past two seasons.
The teams met in the first round last year with Greenwood surviving 3-2 in overtime. Twice the Wildcats rallied from deficits, winning on Hattie Kuhns' goal early in the extra session. Two years ago it was Crestwood winning in the opening round, taking a 3-0 lead early in the second half and cruising to the win.
The Comets have the obvious pedigree, reaching the state tournament eight times in the last 10 years, reaching the semifinals twice and winning two titles.
To get his program to that point, Houser bulked up the Wildcats' schedule in hopes of getting some games on turf and against some better competition. Among its 20 wins, Greenwood beat traditional powers Selinsgrove and Fleetwood and played to a scoreless draw against AAA semifinalist Lower Dauphin and District 3 champion Oley Valley. It's only losses are to Oley Valley in the district final, State College and Palmyra, all three of which played in the state tournament.
"Fortunately we had some openings and teams were willing to play us," said Houser. "We've always tried to play a good schedule, but we went a little further this year."
So why has this Greenwood team advanced where no other team could in recent years? The Wildcats graduated Autumn Pellman two years ago and then Salene Shaffer -- the last two Daily Item Female Athletes of the year -- last season.
They have done it with a potent offense that has scored 93 goals, 21 more than last year, and has 17 shutouts in 24 games.
The potent offense is extraordinarily balanced. Eight players have scored at least five goals, led by Brittany Fleisher's 22 goals. Mallory Fortenbaugh has 14 goals and six assists while Taylor Tompkins has 13 goals as well. Kuhns, the hero of last year's game against Crestwood, has eight goals and 10 assists.
"The seniors have really stepped up and the younger kids have come on," said Houser. "That is what high school sports is all about. We had a sense that we could have this kind of year. We have been building for a couple of years, the kids have gained some confidence and now we feel like we belong."