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Tigers can’t solve Fairfield

Sentinel photo by MIKE GOSS
East Juniata’s Kierstyn Fogle and Fairfield’s Milly Heinbaugh fight for control of the ball Saturday in a quarterfinal game in Mechanicsburg.

MECHANICSBURG — The District 4 Class A champions fought to the very end but couldn’t break through a tough Fairfield defense in a 2-0 loss in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class A girls soccer tournament.

East Juniata finished its 2019 campaign with a 22-2 record. Both losses came at the hands of Fairfield, one in the regular season and the other Saturday at Eagle View Middle School,

Saturday’s contest started with high intensity as each team took turns putting shots on goal. The Tigers’ offense, which ran through Leah Sankey early on, could not penetrate the Fairfield defense, which put many defenders down low.

East Juniata settled for long shots, with Sankey and Thea Neimond taking a majority of those.

Fairfield, on the other hand, preferred to take the ball deep into East Juniata territory, taking shots only when in close proximity to the goal.

The Knights’ first chance to score came when Annabel Anderson collected the ball and dribbled past her defender, getting an open shot on net. Tigers’ goalie Brianna Henry made a wonderful save, diving to her right and keeping the Knights off the board.

After the long shot attempts from the Tigers, the Knights took control of the ball and spent much of the first half in East Juniata territory. But the Tigers defense held strong, deflecting all of the shots that Fairfield fired off.

Perhaps the best scoring opportunity for the Tigers came 20 minutes into the first half. Sankey took the ball into the left corner, passing into the middle of the field, right in front of the net. Amara Brubaker was the recipient and while surrounded by two defenders, she tried to tap the ball into the net. The Knights’ goalie Haley Bolin made a nice save to her left, keeping the game scoreless.

With 10 minutes remaining in the first half, it was Fairfield’s turn to try and score. Anderson took a pass and streaked down the middle of the field. She then sent a pass to Kendra Miller who held on to the ball for just a second before delivering it back to Anderson, who was charging toward the net. This caught the Tigers offguard and Anderson had an open look but her shot rolled right of the net.

The last real scoring threat of the first half came when Fairfield went on the attack with four minutes remaining. Fairfield kicked the ball near the net, prompting Henry to slide on the ground in an attempt to corral the ball. Henry couldn’t maintain possession and the ball popped up into the air. While the Knights fought the get in a position for an open shot, East Juniata cleared it away.

Still scoreless going in the second half, both teams scrambled to give themselves an edge.

The first twenty minutes of the second half played out much like the entire first half. Both teams put shots on goal, but the defenses held strong. Henry and Bolin each made multiple nice saves, frustrating both offenses.

However, Fairfield’s relentless offense finally cracked the East Juniata defense with 22 minutes left to play. Anderson took the ball and sprinted toward the left corner. Just before reaching it, she turned toward the net and sent the ball through the middle. Henry took a step out of the goal and tried to make a play on the ball. She dove headfirst to stop the ball, but it deflected off her fingers and directly into the feet of Nora Clarke, who buried her shot before Henry could recover.

Trailing 1-0, the Tigers switched their focus to offense, bringing up defenders Madison McDonald and Alyssa Robinson to help out. The Knights took a defensive approach, bringing back some of their players in order to counter the numbers advantage East Juniata tried to attain.

The Tigers did get some scoring chances with Sankey leading the way. She took multiple shots and passed to her teammates giving them looks at the net as well. But the Knights didn’t bend, sending back every shot the Tigers took.

Since the Tigers’ focus was on offense, it left their defense vulnerable to Anderson, who used her speed to get behind the defense and score the second goal for the Knights, icing the game with just three minutes remaining.

East Juniata refused to quit, taking a few more shots on goal but could not make the comeback, ending a remarkable season.

Annabel Anderson is the lead goal scorer for the Knights and was crucial in Saturday’s game, tallying a goal and an assist. However, East Juniata coach Val Dressler and the Tigers knew that they had to stop Fairfield as a unit, as Anderson is just one of many playmakers for the Knights.

The Tigers’ defense did a great job of holding Anderson and the offense in check for the first 60 minutes of the game, but Anderson found a way to impact the game late.

“One person doesn’t dictate a team, but she was very, very good and very skilled,” Dressler said. “She made a lot happen for their team, but I think our defense did really well transitioning as she was moving.”

Despite the shutout, the East Juniata offense made many nice plays, but the ball just never found its way into the net. Dressler acknowledged the effort the offense put forward, even when the game wasn’t going their way.

“I think we still got the shots on (goal),” Dressler said. “The shots we got, we made most of them directly to the goalie, unfortunately.”

Dressler and her team were disappointed that their season came to an end, but Dressler told her girls that one loss does not overshadow what they accomplished this season.

“There’s nothing to be upset about,” Dressler said. “It just wasn’t our day. But, at the end of the day, we told them that we are so proud of them.”

Dressler hopes that moving forward, the members of the 2019 East Juniata Tigers don’t feel badly about their quarterfinal loss, but proud of the high level of soccer they played for an entire season.

“Of the three years (in district play), we finally closed a chapter fully,” Dressler said, referring to East Juniata’s winning District 4. “The district title is still a lot to them, and it should mean a lot to them, for a small school like us.”

Fairfield 2, East Juniata 0

Second half

F–Nora Clarke (Annabel Anderson), 21:51. F–Anderson, 3:32.

Shots: EJ 10-9. Corners: F 4-2. Saves: F-6 (Haley Bolin), EJ-4 (Brianna Henry).

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