Bell, Hornets dispatch Juniata

Hard-luck Indians fall in first round again

SLIPPERY ROCK — Juniata has made a handful of trips to the PIAA girls soccer tournament, going back to the school’s days in District 3.

The program has yet to see a win there.

That story continued Tuesday afternoon at Slippery Rock High School, where the Indians fell to Hickory, 4-0, in the opening round of the PIAA Class 2A tournament.

The Hornets’ Lauren Bell was a force to reckon with all afternoon for the Indians, recording a natural hat trick that cross through halftime between the first two periods, and accounted for the game’s first three goals.

“We tried to front her and have one sort of defender as a safety valve,” Juniata coach Brian Strawser said. “We also told our outside backs that if the ball is to the far side, pinch across, try to be a support there.”

The game strategy was working for the Indians until goalkeeper Mahala Laub went down with an injury while making a save when the score was just 1-0. Laub made a stop in front of her, and with the ball going up in the air on the play, she went up and got the ball, coming down with it just in front of the goal line.

The play took Laub out of the game — she returned for a bit, but eventually came out again when Strawser opted to play all of his seniors — and with backup goalkeeper Kali Foltz in, Bell struck twice for the Hornets to put the game away.

Bell, a verbal commit to Duquesne University, had a breakaway, and just in front of the goal, tapped a bouncer past Foltz. Bell’s speed and physical play was a problem throughout the entire game for the Indians.

“They were a very strong, very physical, very fast team. We like to think we’re somewhat physical, but we haven’t seen anything like that all year as far as how physical our opponent (was),” Strawser said. “The Bell girl is a Division I recruit. There’s a reason she scored over 125 goals in her career — 50-some this year. Our defense did what they could.”

Luck wasn’t on the Indians’ side. Two minutes after Bell’s second goal, with the defense attempting to get the ball away from the front of the goal, it hit it off Bell’s knee and went into the net for the Bell’s third and final goal.

“Sometimes in a game like this, you look for a lucky bounce, and we just could not get it,” Strawser said. “For 66 minutes, it was a close, tight game. It wasn’t like we weren’t getting opportunities. Sometimes you just have to get a lucky bounce, and we didn’t get that tonight.”

Both teams had their chances in that 66-minute span. Hickory couldn’t finish its set-up passes in front of the goal, and Juniata had a tough time getting anything by Hornets freshman goalkeeper, Molly Piso.

The Indians got six shots on goal, but Piso, often seen playing up on the ball, stopped a good portion of the Indians’ drives 10 yards in front of the goal.

Between Bell’s second and third goals, the Indians had a great opportunity to score a goal.

Both teams — mostly a sea Juniata red — had a group of players in front of the Hornets’ goal. The Indians got two shots off, but Piso twice stopped them. Her first was a diving stop, and the second was a right place, right time situation coming off a shot on the ground directly to her while making a play on the first shot.

“She obviously plays a lot of soccer away from high school,” Strawser said. “She was an incredible keeper. Her decision making was good, she had good hands, and just an excellent goalie.”

With his team down 3-0, Strawser elected to put all five of his seniors in the game for the final five and half minutes including the third Juniata goalkeeper of the game, Erika Payne, against whom the Hornets scored once more in the game’s final minute off the foot of Marissa DeJulia from nearly 40 yards out.

Strawser takes a lot of good away from a tough loss.

“I told our girls the score does not reflect how that game was played,” Strawser said. “For 66 minutes it was 1-0, and we had some chances. If things had bounced our way a bit, we could have a different game. Unfortunately, it didn’t tonight.”