Thunder top Juniata on PK

BELLEVILLE – Brian Renno had to be thinking Belleville Mennonite saw its last chance go by when Juniata corraled high-octane forward Andrew Miller, who seemingly got behind the defense and into the Indians’ box late in the second period Monday.

And then another chance came when Alex Suydam had an opening on a corner kick that sailed to his foot at the far post, another near miss for the Thunder.

But neither of those measure up to the regret Clint Brackbill ended up feeling about a pair of tries Nick Gilbert had on a pretty much open Belleville goal, one of which hit the crossbar and the second grazed over the goal. But the Juniata coach had reason to feel down at the end, which came not after 80 minutes of regulation, but after 8:21 of extra play.

That’s where the clock stopped for a Belleville Mennonite penalty kick, and it never started back up. Miller placed his kick just to the right of Juniata’s keeper, winning the contest with that shot.

Ironically, Juniata’s best chance to put the ball in the net in the first half was on a penalty shot, one that Thunder keeper Sammy Kauffman got in front of.

“It’s unfortunate it ends that way but there’s not much we can say,” Brackbill, Juniata’s coach, said. “We had our opportunities. If we finish those, it doesn’t come down to that.”

And he was right – outside of the first few minutes of play, when Belleville Mennonite was making a few runs to the Indians’ back third, the half was pretty much all Juniata. The Indians mostly needed to find a way to compensate for the Thunder’s height advantage, which was notable. The struggle was to beat the wind, which actually helped Juniata – the ball had to stay low.

“You get a tight game like this, it’s their home field. They know the conditions, they play the wind well and the field well,” Brackbill said. “You’ve got to take advantage of those and we didn’t do that.”

Juniata managed a handful of shots before the break, including the failed PK. Belleville Mennonite put the ball in Indian keeper Matt Coldren’s hands once, and that was not on a shot.

“I thought with us defending against the wind first, if we could get to halftime at 0-0, I thought that would give us an advantage in the second half,” said Renno, the Thunder coach, who credited Kauffman’s stop on the penalty kick for giving that strategy a chance.

Juniata’s other ace was speed, best personified in the form of midfielder Jose Lopez. Lopez played a more defensive role, controlling the ability of the home team to gain any traction.

“With the way Lopez was marking, we couldn’t turn on him,” Renno said. “He is just so quick.”

“He did the job we asked him to do today,” Brackbill said. “He did a great job back there – they didn’t have many opportunities.”

The Thunder had trouble getting people to the ball up top, Renno admitted, and go-to guy Miller was like a magnet for the Indian defenders, making it hard for him to break free.

“That’s a weakness of ours that we’re always looking for him, and we expect him to do something with it,” Renno said. “It’s a weakness that we’ve grown into because of the type of player he is. As we saw today, if a team marks him well it takes him out of the game.”

When it came right down to it, outside of the two PKs, the best chances to score were the back-and-forth tries late in the game. Gilbert, up first, fired a rocket at the goal that ricocheted straight back to him, giving him a mulligan.

“We had another one that was a complete open look. All we’ve got to do is have some poise and put it on the frame,” Brackbill lamented. “That’s been our issue all year.”

Belleville Mennonite only really had a chance on the corner; Miller never got a shot on his trip up a minute or so earlier.

“He was in the right place at the right time. It was a tough angle for him,” Renno said.

In the overtime, Noah Anders was taking the ball in from the side, trying to fight his was past Juniata’s Chantz Imes. The two tangled momentarily outside the box; Anders maintained his footing or the call may have been only for a free kick. Instead, the tripping call was made after the two crossed the line, which led to the penalty kick being awarded.

Belleville Mennonite (9-3-1), which has clinched a District 6 playoff spot, hosts Carson Long Saturday. Juniata (5-6-1) hosts Millersburg this evening in its lone night game at Dietrick Field.