BLOOMSBURG - The Midd-West Mustangs scored quickly against Bloomsburg in their Heartland Conference interdivisional boys soccer match Monday.
But Bloomsburg scored the next four, not only handing Midd-West the 4-1 loss, but putting the Mustangs in a difficult position in their quest to make the District 4 tournament.
The Mustangs need a win - just one, to avoid missing the postseason for the second year in a row - and wanted to be the second team to knock off the Panthers this fall. And, playing in the HAC-3 - the league's small-school division - Bloomsburg doesn't generally see the caliber of play that the top tier offers.
Sentinel photo by JEFF FISHBEIN
Midd-West’s Logan Klinepeter, left, stops a ball while Bloomsburg’s Jonathan Nixon (9) rushes in to the play Monday in Bloomsburg.
Early on, the home team did a good job moving the ball against Midd-West, but it was the Mustangs who found the back of the net in the first five minutes, when a ball delivered by Colton Keister went off the head of Jake Keister, over the head of keeper Colin Warren and into the net.
Across the middle of the first half, the teams traded opportunities. Bloomsburg put one off the post and Mustang keeper Austin Hockenbrock saved a one-on-one effort. Midd-West had a solid cross that the Panther defense was able to get rid of.
But Bloomsburg was getting the ball downfield more, and even though most of its efforts were routine, a pair of them were successful in a two-minute span. For the tying goal, Tristan Wright beat a defender to get the ball around Hockenbrock. The go-ahead was a rebound that Cade Harmon put in the net.
*Midd-West travels to Mifflinburg today
"I felt like we had no business giving up any goals if we were marked," Midd-West coach Chris Sauer said. "The first goal, they got it out wide and the guy didn't have anyone within 15 yards of him. The second goal, the guy had the ball inside the 18 and we backed off of him and gave him the cross."
Worse yet, he said, after the surprise success of the first goal, the Mustangs lost sight of where their success is better developed.
"We didn't take care of the ball at all tonight. We knew how they played," Sauer said. "We got away from what we do, which is keep the ball on the ground and getting the ball wide. We just gave it up."
The problem was exacerbated in the second half, when the Mustangs simply gave Bloomsburg too much latitude when it came to possession. Despite that, the early opportunities again went to the visitors - but came up short.
Balls were wide on the net. Crosses were turned away. Mishandled balls resulted in lost chances.
"We had the open goal that we didn't finish. We had the shot inside the six that went wide. You have those golden chances like that in a 2-1 game, it could be a complete and total momentum swing," Sauer said. "The first 15 minutes of the second half we were hammering away."
And then came the deadly moment, with fewer than eight minutes to play - a straight-on shot by Bloomsburg's Jonathan Nixon went into the hands of Hockenbrock. And then the ball went out, and across the goal line.
"Austin has made some fantastic saves for us this year and that's just unfortunate for one to go through his hands," Sauer lamented.
The insult to injury play came inside three minutes when Wright got his second, drilling a ball from the top corner of the box into the net.
The loss puts Midd-West in a difficult position. With a record of 8-8, the Mustangs need one win to clinch a playoff spot, and have two tries to do so. But both are on the road - today they travel to Mifflinburg, and Thursday to Williamsport, both HAC-1 games. Sauer said to keep their heads above water the Mustangs will have to work offensively today against a team they edged 2-1 in Middleburg.
"We know what they play like. We know they're just going to pack the box and hope for a quick counterattack goal," he said. "We have to be patient, and any chances we get we have to finish."