Indians continue to play underdog role

Sentinel file photo Juniata goalie Mahala Laub, right, makes a stop in the Indians’ home game against East Juniata this year. Laub will have to work overtime against a potent Hickory offense today.

MIFFLINTOWN — The Juniata girls’ soccer team emerged in the District 6 Class 2A playoffs playing its best soccer of the season.

The Indians (15-7-1), battling from the sixth seed, knocked off third seeded Central Cambria and second seed and defending champion Central before falling in a tough 3-2 loss to Bedford in the final.

Juniata coach Brian Strawser hopes his squad’s solid play continues when the Indians face District 10 champion Hickory in the first round of the PIAA Class 2A tournament at 5 p.m. today.

Juniata already got a small victory — the game, originally placed at Erie’s Villa/Prep events center, was relocated to Slippery Rock High School, much closer to home. Because District 10 is on the top line in the bracket, it gets to host the opening-round game.

“I think the attitudes are good.  That was a tough loss (to Bedford) but we have our sights now on playing in the state tournament and doing the best we can,” Strawser said.

The Hornets (18-2-1) defeated Mercyhurst Prep 2-1 for the District 10 title with Lauren Bell scoring a goal, giving her 54 for the season — a school record. Goalie Molly Piso tied a single-season school record as well with 15 shutouts this year.

“I know very little about them. I’ve been able to find out some of their scores from the District 6 website and I have some e-mails out to coaches of teams who have played them, but I don’t know a whole lot at this point,” Strawser said.

Josie Swartz and Lilli Reed lead the Indians’ charge into the state playoffs. Swartz scored a goal against Bedford, as did Sydney Shaeffer. Playing the possession game is important for the Indians’ chances.

“We talk a lot about keeping the ball as much as we can. If the other team doesn’t have the ball, there’s not a lot of good things they can do against us,” Strawser said.

The Indians struggled in the second half of games this season and need to see marked improvement if they want to move even deeper in the tournament. In the district title game, Juniata opened up a 2-0 lead before the Bisons scored three straight for the victory. Strawser said, his girls’ never-say-die attitude is a plus factor for the postseason grind.

“Obviously everybody is good once you get this far. We will have to play 80 minutes of our best soccer. We will have to take it one minute at a time making sure we stay focused,” Strawser said. “Our girls don’t ever quit and we will need that kind of effort to be successful at states.”