Indians run past Cougars, 4-0

MIFFLINTOWN – Juniata struck early and it struck often against Tri-Valley League foe Lancaster Country Day on the girls soccer field Thursday, and it resulted in a 4-0 shutout win for the Indians.

With the Indians’ flowing offense, shut-down defense and steady pressure that resulted in four goals throughout the game, the contest was characterized by a calm precision. But, regardless of what it was characterized by, the game will most likely be remembered for an injury-inducing moment of chaos.

With 17:28 remaining in the contest, the game was nearly put away as a 3-0 lead on Juniata’s part had Lancaster Country Day scrambling to stay afloat. But when goalkeeper Samantha Schlageter and Juniata forward Elisabeth Ritzman collided while going for a free ball in front of the net, both went down. Schlageter didn’t get up – bringing the game to a halt. She eventually left the game, which resumed after a delay of nearly 20 minutes.

Despite the obvious concern on both sides of the field for the injured keeper, both teams returned with vigor and intensity to complete the match.

In the remaining minutes, Juniata completed its scoring when a deep pass from Christen Baublitz went to Janelle Swartz for a goal with 4:45 remaining. Juniata also was able to substitute liberally, and the bench strength was highlighted by two beautiful saves from goalie Madalynn Marrone to maintain her team’s shutout.

“You hate to see anything like that happen,” Juniata coach Brian Strawser said of the injury. “It was two players that were just going very hard for the ball, and they met in the middle. There’s no doubt about that. So we wish her the best and hopefully a fast recovery.”

But, in addition to his concern, Strawser was also pleased with the way his girls finished the game after the injury break, explaining that “after that long break we came out and probably played better than we had in the second half before that happened.”

Juniata’s first half scoring included a notch by Burns off a penalty kick for a slide tackle in the box and a tally by Baublitz on an easy shot in front of an open goal.

On Baublitz’s goal, Schlageter and Juniata’s Micheh Horning both went down going for a free ball in front of the net – it was a play much like the one that took Schlageter out of the contest later in the game – and Baublitz was there to collect the goal when the ball popped loose in front of the empty net.

Throughout the game Juniata was characterized by strong communication as verbal direction on the field from the captains and warnings about pressure from the bench kept the Indians’ passing game and on-field awareness high, and it was no more evident than during Juniata’s first second-half goal, when Swartz and Burns connected for a beautiful goal at 29:19.

With Burns controlling the ball at midfield, Swartz called out and pointed where she wanted the pass downfield, and Burns delivered, allowing Swartz to slip the defender and make the shot for the 3-0 lead.

“Things that we’re looking to improve on, one is communication. And tonight they were vocal, we could hear them, they were talking to each other whether it was to warn them of pressure coming on, or letting the player know that they were in support of that person,” Strawser said. “So that is just something we’ve got to continue to do.”

However, another point Strawser wanted to see better execution upon was consistency.

“We’ve got to get more consistent. We show it at times, but then we have our lapses,” he said.

One place the Indians struggled with consistency at times was on the offense. Although they were consistent and precise in the midfield, often they were either just behind or just ahead of the cross passes, resulting in poor shots or missed opportunities.

In the first half alone, Juniata was called for eight offside violations, slowing down its scoring opportunities. But if there were slight inconsistencies in the offense, the defense played strong the entire game to keep Lancaster County Day’s threats to a minimum.

Led by fullbacks Megan Shoop, Anna Hershey and Jenna Bretz, Lancaster Country Day had trouble making anything happen as the three anticipated and broke up plays well.

“A lot of patience out of our defense tonight. In other words, one time they had the ball in deep, and we were able to take it over, and rather than to just do anything with the ball, we were patient, we were able to keep possession and we made three or four passes just to get the ball out of the back, so that was very fortunate for us,” Strawser said.

Juniata (4-2, 4-1) gets back in action Saturday when it travels to non-league opponent Midd-West.