JOHNSTOWN - Braden Junker netted a three-goal hat trick with a variety of shots on Thursday night at Point Stadium.
The Bishop McCort junior forward made a move on the left side of the net and placed the ball inside the far post for the first goal of a District 6 Class A semifinal against Belleville Mennonite.
Junker blasted a 35-yard shot into the net to close the scoring in McCort's 5-1 victory.
Sentinel photo by TAMI KNOPSNYDER
Belleville Mennonite's Andrew Miller (left) and Bishop McCort's R.J. Slifko (6) battle for the ball during the first half of the District 6 Class A semifinal match at the Point Stadium in Johnstown Thursday. Bishop McCort won the match 5-1.
But his middle goal, perhaps the least "pretty" of the three, was a true backbreaker that put defending champion McCort on the path to an appearance in Saturday's Districs 6 Class A final at Trojan Stadium.
Hard work and determination enabled Junker to take a hard shot on goal that was stopped by Belleville keeper Sammy Kaufman. But the ball caromed back into the middle of the box and deflected off Junker into the net. That goal pushed McCort's margin back to two after the Trojans had just closed within 2-1 after Andrew Miller's goal at 23:57 of the second half.
"Whenever someone scores on you it's a heartbreaker, especially in the playoffs," said Junker, who answered the Belleville goal just over 4 minutes later. "The last thing we wanted was to give up this game. To get that next goal and to keep going, that was a dream come true for all of us."
Second-seeded McCort takes a 12-4-2 record into the championship game against top-seeded Westmont Hilltop in an all-LHAC match. Belleville Mennonite closed an 11-4-1 season.
"Goals come in bunches," Belleville Mennonite coach Brian Renno said. "As soon as we scored that goal we were in it again. But the transition, their counter attack, No. 28 (Junker) knocked a defender off the ball and worked his way in. That was the turning point in the game. That took the air out of us to go down 3-1."
Junker gave the Crushers an early lead with a goal nearly 5 minutes into the first half. Senior Kieran Spencer made it 2-0 with just 2:47 remaining in the half.
"A turning point for us was the goal we gave up at the end of the first half," Renno said. "Three minutes to play. I had told the players we needed 5 minutes to play to be down only 1-0.
"We gave up a tough (first) goal, a nice shot, near post (by Junker). But that was a tough goal (by Spencer) at the end of the first half. It took the wind out of our sails."
Belleville's Miller and Junker traded goals early in the second.
The Crushers didn't squander the momentum. McCort's Nick Mastovich scored to make it 4-1 only 1:41 after Junker's second tally.
"Nick was at the right spot at the right time and was very opportunistic,"Crushers coach Ron Spinelli said. "As a young player, he always gets himself in the right spot and he was there to make the shot."
Junker closed the scoring with his long-range goal with 8:57 on the clock.
"Braden had a great game," Spinelli said. "He's a great player. The kid's a baller. It was just a matter of time until he hit his groove. We have a number of guys who are peaking at the right moment."
Spinelli pointed to Spencer's goal as a highlight.
"That was his first goal as a senior in his first year starting," Spinelli said. "He didn't quit. He went hard down into the corner, got his hips turned and really put a nice spin on the ball and got it into the net."
McCort also had a solid effort from senior keeper Adam Pastorek and a six-deep defense.
"As long as those six in the rotation are on the field I know we're going to be in the game," Spinelli said. "Our keeper has played great all year. Some of the kicks he was making, to kick the ball 60 or 65 yards, it really puts the other team on their heels."
Renno praise his Trojans for a solid season.
"I thought my team deserved to be here and we played within ourselves most of this game," Renno said. "We struggled with the wet (artificial) turf, which is a little bit out of character for us. The speed of the turf affected us a little bit. We made a few adjustments at halftime and did a better job.
"I'm proud of my guys," Renno added. "They deserved to be here. We had a successful season."