BELLEFONTE - They say that weather can be a good equalizer in sports.
Someone forgot to tell that to the high-energy Juniata Mennonite boys soccer squad.
The Lions controlled their game against Blair County Christian from beginning to end despite heavy downpours and slippery field conditions, winning the first-round game in the Allegheny Christian Athletic Association tournament Thursday 6-1.
Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER?SHANNON
Juniata Mennonite’s Tony Gehman (10) attempts to head the ball past Blair County Christian goalkeeper Jonas Hight (7) during the first round of the Allegheny Christian Athletic Association boys soccer tournament Thursday in Bellefonte. Behind the play is Blair County’s Nathaniel McCormick; the Lions’ Adrian Martin (22)?looks on.
Juniata Mennonite's Tony Gehman picked up a hat trick in the contest, notching one first- and two second-half goals.
"What we were looking for tonight was for us to try to get back to the midseason peak that we had. So we are trying to take a step back and regroup and go forward at this time," Juniata Mennonite coach Kurt Wagner said. "We are looking at this as a week of practice and to starting fresh."
For the third-place team from the east, the win over the west runner-up wasn't as much of a workout as a challenge, Wagner said.
"From the midpoint of the game on we weren't stepping to the ball like we should. We weren't hustling to the ball they way we should but we are a hustling team," he said. "We are a team that is going to outlast most teams so basically we got back to our game. With the bad weather, it was an ugly game but despite that the kids played hard."
It didn't take long for the Lions to get on the scoreboard - not even two minutes. Frank Allen blasted a shot from outside the box and sent it past Bobcats goalkeeper Jonas Hight, making it 1-0 on the Lions' first shot of the game.
Early on, the rain made the Centre County Christian field a faster one and Juniata Mennonite took advantage of its speed advantage over Blair County, which led to the Lions' second goal of the game.
With 27:55 still showing in the first, Gehman picked up his first goal of the game after catching a pass from Allen and sending it to the corner of the goal.
Juniata outshot the Bobcats 8-1 in the first 15 minutes, as the Lions proved stingy on their half of the field. As the first period sunk below the 10-minute mark, Blair County cut the Lions' lead in half to 2-1.
Bobcat striker Gary Nixon blasted a shot in the middle of the field and it grazed off the arm of a Lions' defender, ending the first half scoring.
In the second half, Juniata extended its lead back to two as Adrian Martin pushed the ball down the field and kicked it over a lunging Hight.
The Lions continued the fast tempo and time after time continued to frustrate the Bobcats.
As the game dwindled to last 12 minutes, Juniata Mennonite added two consecutive goals by Gehman in a two-minute span to increase the lead to 5-1. Seventh grader Trent Smeltz also got into the act for the Lions, hitting a goal of his own to end the scoring.
The tournament continues today; the Lions will play in one of the semifinals against Meadowbrook Christian, the No. 1 team from the ACAA east and unbeaten in league play, at 12:30 p.m. By winning its opener, Juniata Mennonite (12-6) is guaranteed to last until Saturday before closing out its season, in either the championship or the third-place game.