LEWISTOWN - Nine games into the season, the Mifflin County field hockey team has broken even in Commonwealth Division action at 3-3.
However, as the Huskies were battling to bring their conference record above .500, Tuesday brought a new challenge - Mifflin County's first glimpse of District 6 Class AAA competition.
And despite a slow first half, a 2-0 shutout win over State College was the Huskies' answer to the test.
Sentinel photo by JAYNEE?CAROLUS
Mifflin County’s Brenna Shilling (18)?moves to the ball ahead of State College’s Emily Allegar (21) Tuesday in Lewistown. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com
The Huskies looked slow and tentative during the first 30 minutes - collecting seven corners but failing to manufacture a single shot on goal - but in the second half it seemed as if a whole new team stepped onto the field, led by Kezia Loht and Hannah Kerstetter's goal-scoring plays.
With the pressure on from the start of the second half, Loht scored the first Mifflin County goal when she broke free down the right side, dribbled hard past the defense and slammed her shot just inside the far post to make it 1-0 less than four minutes into the second stanza.
From there the Huskies kept up the pressure - all seven of their shots on goal were recorded in the second half - and a Kerstetter insurance goal with 13:59 left to play put the game away for the Huskies.
In a scrum in front of State College's cage, Kerstetter made two shots in quick succession just off the post that Little Lion goalie Megan McCarthy was able to deflect, but on her third try Kerstetter found the net for the final 2-0 score.
It was high pressure all the way, and it was the exact opposite of Mifflin County's first-half play, when the Huskies got inside the circle plenty of times but failed to get dangerous.
"We had seven corners in the first half and didn't have one shot on goal, so we just talked about making more of an offensive push. You know, harder shots, trying to make something happen offensively, and I think we were able to do that in the second half," Mifflin County coach Tish Maclay said.
Last year State College edged Mifflin County 2-1 for the district title, so it was important for the Huskies to see how they measure up against District 6 competition, and after the win Maclay was modest about where her team stands.
"We still have a lot to work on. I think we're progressing," she said. "I think all the players are tying to understand what we're talking about and trying to make some different things happen out there. I do see some improvement in them, and so as long as we continue to see improvement, hopefully we'll be right where we want to be toward the end of the season."
One place in particular the Huskies had success Tuesday and of which Maclay was complimentary was the team's work in the backfield.
As the offense struggle to produce in the first half, the defense made sure State College didn't get a chance to run away with the lead as the girls anticipated plays well and moved quickly to break up any Little Lion threats.
"I think our defense played a real good game today. We kind of switched up our formation a little bit, and I think that it made us a little more offensive than we had been a little earlier in the season," Maclay said.
Mifflin County's Renee Grill, who had stopped several plays throughout the game, had an especially nice second-half play when she was the last back between two Little Lion forwards and goalie Jordan Myers. With the two-against-one advantage, State College pushed toward the cage, but Grill stayed between the two to effectively break up the play before a shot could be made.
Mifflin County (4-5, 3-3) travels to Central Dauphin East Thursday.