BELLEFONTE - There's only room for one Lion in the Allegheny Christian Athletic Association boys soccer tournament, and Meadowbrook Christian proved that Friday.
After rolling through a 6-1 win over Blair County Christian in the first round of the tournament Thursday, the Juniata Mennonite Lions suffered a 2-0 loss to the same-named team from Northumberland County Friday to drop into the third-place game.
Both teams came on strong and maintained their momentum throughout the game - both finished with almost identical stats in both shots and corner kick opportunities - but it was Meadowbrook Christian that took advantage of the breaks it got, resulting in the win.
Meadowbrook Christian's first chance was just over 20 minutes into the first half, when a lapse in Juniata Mennonite's defense allowed Garrett Gessner to get wide open for a shot inside the 18, resulting in a 1-0 lead.
Up to that point, Juniata Mennonite's defense had done well containing Meadowbrook Christian's threats, but the goal put a crack in the hull for Juniata Mennonite, and it wasn't long before Meadowbrook Christian again took advantage.
On Meadowbrook Christian's next goal, a miscommunication between Juniata Mennonite goalie Jacob Metz and two of his defenders resulted in a dropped ball right in front of the net, one that Meadowbrook Christian's Jacob Crawford was there to collect for the 2-0 lead.
"You tell your offense to crash on the goal, you tell your offense to be there when those things happen so that you can take advantage. So I was very happy that we did that," Meadowbrook Christian coach Dan Vanduyne said.
Juniata Mennonite coach Kurt Wagner identified defense as an aspect of the game his team continues to work upon improving.
"Defensively, one of the things we need to continue to work on is just to step to the ball quickly when the ball is in the 18," he said.
However, if two lapses on the defense gave up the only goals of the game, Juniata Mennonite also had trouble pulling the trigger on its offensive chances.
"Basically we just had some unlucky bounces. This was a game where we needed to get up early, and continue to lead. We play better with a lead than we do down - we don't play from behind well," said Wagner, who explained that his forwards Tony Gehman and Adrian Martin created several breakaway chances, but he thought his team just couldn't quite get the break.
Maybe Juniata Mennonite didn't get the break, maybe a few shots went just wide, but what Juniata Mennonite was also working with was Meadowbrook Christian's defense - a defense not quick to give Gehman any chances.
"They did well at tracking their man, and they did well shutting down (Gehman). He's a huge threat," Vanduyne said.
Kurtis Klodnicki in particular was a tough matchup for Gehman, breaking up several plays that otherwise could have resulted in shots for Gehman. But even though Meadowbrook Christian played well enough for the win, Vanduyne thought the team looked a little slower on both offense and defense than normal.
"We were hesitant to really get on the attack, so I would have liked to have seen some more shooting. We didn't really challenged the keeper at all from outside the 18, which is not typical of us," he said.
Wagner enforced the idea throughout the game that his forwards should work the field horizontally, and they created several dangerous opportunities doing so, but none resulted in a goal.
"We talked about making horizontal runs today and just creating space away from their defenders. Usually Tony gets marked pretty tightly, so I just wanted him to go back and forth and make sure he separated from the defenders," Wagner said.
Juniata Mennonite (13-6) will play the loser of Northumberland and Great Commission today at 10:45 a.m.
Meadowbrook Christian, which maintains its perfect record in the ACAA, will play Northumberland Christian for the championship.