Wildcats’ intensity keeps it a race

COCOLAMUS – It was about being ready to play. Hard.

It was about games that you just can’t lose.

It was about intensity. That, and there was some field hockey, too.

In what became a cynosure game on the Tri-Valley League calendar, it was visiting Greenwood who came hungry.

And the Wildcats feasted on East Juniata in a 4-0 win that has changed the race for the league title from a two-horse race to a toss-up.

Both coaches expressed concern about teams being up for the game; one of them had the pleasure of realizing maybe he was wrong about the preparedness level of his squad. Greenwood’s Kent Houser said the team looked lackadaisical in warmups, which along with the temperature, worried him.

“It’s a little hot, and we don’t handle that the best all the time,” he said. “But once the game started the kids responded a lot better than I thought.”

That wasn’t the same for the home team, the team that stunned Greenwood with a win in Millerstown Sept. 10, a game that marked the Wildcats’ first league loss in four years and the Tigers’ first win over Greenwood in more than a decade.

“I thought our girls would be pumped up and ready to play, but we came out flat,” East Juniata coach Billie Haines said. “I didn’t think we picked it up at all. There was never a spark.”

The first half was the Greenwood offense show. The attack came swiftly and put East Juniata goalie Lydia Strawser on her heels; there simply wasn’t enough defense in the circle to stop the ‘Cats. And it produced the first goal 11 minutes into the game, a cross from Kelsey Keener to Katie Barton, who delivered from the far post on a shot no one could have stopped.

“Our left wings in particular, they can tell you they’ve been hammered about getting that left wing covered,” Houser said. “Today they came through – two of the three first-half goals came off that left post.”

East Juniata had its only penalty corner of the half just before that; the fact that Greenwood was able to turn it against the Tigers so quickly was part of the problem they faced.

“They dominated the first half, but we certainly had chances. We didn’t capitalize on any of them,” Haines said.

With 12 minutes left before the break, on the Wildcats’ fourth corner, Keener dished a goal from right in front off a feed from Jordan Burkepile.

On Greenwood’s eighth and final corner of the half, Lauren Friedman delivered the pass and Alex Fegley had another tally from the back side of the play.

“They were obviously ready to play us today. They were animals in the circle and it showed,” Haines said. “The intensity was the biggest thing. They were hungry.”

“I thought we came out that first half, really got after them hard early, took control of the game,” Houser said – moving the ball well, getting good support and forcing fouls and errors that allowed his team to dominate the flow of the game.

Mallory Fortenbaugh added the final goal three minutes into the second half, the only scoring effort that truly beat Strawser. Fortenbaugh, on a rebound off the pads, lifted the ball over the goalie’s extended leg, preventing her from booting it away.

There was no quit by the Tigers even then – Strawser kicked one away with such force that a Greenwood player ended up on the ground; another East Juniata player was fiery enough to draw a card – but the Wildcats were not about to let the home team back in the game.

“We understood the situation. We knew this was an absolute must game,” Houser said. “We could not lose today.”

Haines faces the same tough task now, when the Tigers (6-3, 3-1) play Line Mountain twice in a week after a tuneup against Huntingdon Saturday.

“They have to find what pumps them up and makes them ready to play,” she said. “If we don’t show up to play, it will be a long game. We can’t play just OK against the great teams.”

Greenwood (8-3, 4-1) travels to Hershey Monday.