2nd-half surge lifts Indians to semifinals

BELLEFONTE – Juniata was winning possessions and controlling the flow of the game during the first half of its District 6 Class AA quarterfinal matchup against Huntingdon Thursday, but it wasn’t doing any scoring. With the breakaway potential of Ladycat forward Natanya Shingler, a quick break downfield could have caused problems.

However, “could have” is different than “did.”

Led by a second-half Elisabeth Ritzman hat trick, the Indians opened the floodgates for a 4-0 win over Huntingdon to propel themselves to the semifinals Tuesday, where they will take on No. 2 seed Westmont-Hilltop in Hollidaysburg.

“We didn’t come out and play our best soccer, obviously in the first half. I don’t know what it was, we made some bad decisions,” Juniata coach Brian Strawser said. But Strawser also credited his girls with being patient until the shots went in, and in the second half, it wasn’t long until they did.

Just six minutes into the second half, Ritzman notched her first goal when she found an opening during a Juniata attack on the net for the 1-0 lead.

Teammate Micheh Horning then set the plate for Ritzman to score again when she drew Ladycat keeper Ashley Laird out of the box, and her deflected shot landed right in front of Ritzman for the 2-0 Juniata lead.

“Elisabeth did a great job tonight,” Strawser said. “She got herself in good position tonight.”

Ritzman again put herself in the right place at the 20-minute mark for the 4-0 lead when she evaded a Huntingdon defender in front of the net for the final goal of the game, but before that Horning put up the Indians’ third goal when a nice attack on the net by Carly Burns and Janelle Swartz resulted in another deflected shot – one Horning was ready to put in the back of the net.

“They’re a patient bunch, and once we got that first goal in I felt pretty good that we’d score again,” Strawser said, but that wasn’t without giving a lot of credit to the defense for playing a shutdown effort throughout the game.

“The defense – they don’t get enough credit throughout the year. So I’ve got to mention Megan Shoop, Jenna Bretz, Lauren Lock – Julie Swartz came in there big tonight – and Anna Hershey who’s been big all year,” he said.

Whereas in the second half Juniata worked the ball horizontally to create multiple shot opportunities, Huntingdon’s approach was more one-dimensional – pass the ball to Shingler and let her try to break past the defense.

The problem with this approach, however, was that the defense wouldn’t be broken.

Across the Indians’ backfield, the defenders contained Shingler’s threats, and they also shut down the passing lanes to make it difficult to work the ball to the wings. This meant the offense had plenty of time to work for the goals, giving the Indians a 17-4 shooting advantage over the Ladycats.

With the win, the No. 6 seed Indians move to 13-5 on the season, and will play Westmont-Hilltop Tuesday in Hollidaysburg. Westmont-Hilltop defeated Bedford, 2-0, Thursday to advance to the semifinals.