None of this was supposed to happen.
The Bethlehem girls soccer team was too young to contend, too inexperienced to match up with the rest of the Suburban Council.
Then, in the Section II Class AA playoffs as a No. 6 seed, the Eagles were expected to put up a good fight, but then quietly surrender and await bigger glory in the years ahead.
And even when the Eagles somehow upended the top three seeds for a stunning sectional title, surely the fun was going to end in the state tournament, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s AA regional final against Section III champion Liverpool at Fulton, north of Syracuse.
Well, with no one really expecting it, the Eagles have cleared all the hurdles and are now in the state final four, two wins away from a state championship that, by this point, might not shock anyone.
Bethlehem’s 2-1 overtime victory over Liverpool in the regional final fit the season-long template – work hard, play solid defense, find a few opportunites and then seize on them.
Like the Eagles, the Warriors were a young (just three seniors) team not expected to win its sectional title, but then upset top seed and defending champion Cicero-North Syracuse by that same 2-1 margin in its sectional final.
This was a rematch of the 2011 regional final won by Bethlehem. With a cold wind whipping across the Fulton turf, it would take a while for both sides to warm up, as the opening stages brought lots of possession time for the Warriors and Eagles, but no serious scoring threats.
Liverpool stayed patient, though, and in the 18th minutes freshman Emily Dorr, in just the right place, got hold of a deflected pass and drilled a low shot inside the left post and past Bethlehem goalie Miranda Manziano, just the fifth goal she had allowed since Sept. 20.
Soon it was apparent that Liverpool would need to protect that 1-0 lead, because its attack, especially the likes of Meagan O’Neill and Ore Akinpelu, ran headlong into tough Eagles defenders and were shut down the rest of the half.
Changing tactics, the Warriors started the second half with more players in the back, attempting to protect that slim lead. But that tactic would backfire.
In the 61st minute, Kassie Hautau, who as a junior is one of Bethlehem’s older forwards, got open in the middle and quickly shot it off Richey’s hands into the net, tying it at 1-1.
For the rest of regulation, it stayed even, largely due to Manziano, who made at least three point-blank stops to keep the Eagles alive. Instead of that, the game would go to a pair of mandatory 10-minute overtime periods.
Less than three minutes into the first OT, the Eagles’ Kaylee Richert moved past the defense and zeroed in on Richey. Before Richey could reach out for the ball, Richert slid it past her, and it rolled past the goal line.
For the remaining 17-plus minutes of the extra period, the Eagles’ defense closed ranks even further, making sure than Manziano was not threatened again. Then time ran out, and Bethlehem’s unlikely season was extended for one more weekend.
And it will take the Eagles to Tompkins County Community College on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m., where it will face North Rockland (Section I) in the state semifinals. A win would send Bethlehem to the state title game Sunday at 9:30 a.m. against defending champion Massapequa (Section VIII) or Clarence (Section VI).