COCOLAMUS - East Juniata's field hockey squad entered the District 4 Class AA playoffs as a higher seed than Selinsgrove.
That's a testament to how the Tigers have played under first-year coach Billie Haines. But the Seals have been a field hockey powerhouse for years. So this wouldn't be an easy task.
No. 4 seed East Juniata's defense, at times, played fantastic in shutting No. 5 seed Selinsgrove down. But a late goal in the first half, and then two more quick goals to open the second did the Tigers in.
Sentinel photo by NICK WAGNER
East Juniata’s Serina Spancake (left) fights for posession of the ball with Selinsgrove’s Geneka Mahan during District 4 Class AA action Thursday in Cocolamus.
Selinsgrove was able to come out on top of the quarterfinal matchup against East Juniata with a 5-1 win Thursday in Cocolamus.
"It came down to how bad they wanted it," Haines said. "It was the little things that got us tonight that don't typically get us in the regular season."
But it wasn't easy for the seven-time defending District 4 champions. The Seals got to the state final four a year ago, and have aspirations to get back there this year. A feisty East Juniata squad was in their way.
"Our defense always plays well," Haines said. "They play together and are strong back there. It broke down a little bit but we were able to keep it together for the most part."
Selinsgrove controlled possession for most of the game. And if it wasn't for a late penalty stroke from East Juniata's Stephanie Dressler, the Tigers would have gone home with a zero on the scoreboard.
But unfortunately for East Juniata, that goal came with 20 minutes to play and the Tigers already down 4-0.
"We had a problem keeping the ball on our stick," Haines said. "With a team like Selinsgrove, if you don't have the ball on your stick they're going to get it from you."
The Seals got to work quickly against the East Juniata defense. The Tigers had no problem limiting Selinsgrove's shots, but eventually a large amount of penalty corners would be the Tigers' Achilles heel.
East Juniata gave up its first goal just 10 minutes in after the Seals were in the Tiger defensive zone most of the half. MacKenna Mahan was the beneficiary of a free hit by Emily Klingler. Mahan hit a laser past East Juniata keeper Lydia Strawser for the opening tally.
From there, East Juniata played well the rest of the half. That is until the final seconds.
It was Selinsgrove's seventh corner of the half. And although it had not scored off of one to this point, that would change. Klingler was the scorer this time thanks to a nifty pass from Megan Wetzel.
That goal went in as time was about to expire, and you could feel the life of East Juniata beginning to expire in this quarterfinal matchup.
"We told them that Selinsgrove and the teams we were playing from here on out would be tough," Haines said. "We have to get the ball off our sticks to compete."
Selinsgrove came out in the second half looking like a whole new team. The Seals were faster than the Tigers and it showed early in the final half.
Geneka Mahan and Klingler each scored with only three minutes off the clock to open the half. That pretty much took the wind out of the Tigers' sails and ended their run for a district title.
But credit the Tigers. They never quit.
East Juniata began pressing the Seals and picking up its defensive pressure. That led to the Tigers finally getting some chances on the Selinsgrove end of the field.
With 20 minutes to play, the Tigers had their best scoring chance of the game. And they converted. However, the referee blew the whistle prior to the ball getting past Selinsgrove keeper Courtney McCartney. Dressler would take the penalty stroke.
The East Juniata midfielder made it look easy as she sent the ball straight to the back of the cage.
"It wasn't a lack of effort," Haines said. "The girls played hard and I'm proud of them for that. We got here and this is as far as they've got in a long time."
That emotion was short lived, however. Selinsgrove came right back and picked up its final goal just minutes later when Jenna Kapsar scored.
East Juniata showed a lot of improvement as the season progressed. Haines touched on a few teams that the Tigers lost to earlier in the season and were able to beat the second time around.
"It was a lot of progress this season," Haines said. "From the beginning we started out with quite a few losses. We found a formation that the girls were comfortable with and were able to put some wins together."