MILL HALL — They met twice this fall and finished first and second in the Mid Penn Conference standings.
The most important thing the State College boys’ soccer team learned about facing Cumberland Valley is that the Eagles have a solid defense.
The Little Lions got a third crack at that defense Tuesday night in the PIAA Class AAA first round, and finished with the same result as the first two – a shutout loss.
State College tumbled 2-0 at Don Malinak Stadium to see its season brought to a halt.
“We knew all their players, knew how they played,” Little Lions coach Danny Orton said. “Individually, our division is so tight, and it comes down to player versus player, and who’s going to play well on the night.”
Brian Bacco and Riley Katshir scored the goals for the Eagles (20-2-1) while Cam Avery made six saves for the shutout. They will face Downtingtown West, a 2-0 winner over Abington Heights, in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
Shutouts also were posted during the regular season, with a 2-0 win in early September and 3-0 at the end of the month.
“We’ve beaten them twice,” Cumberland Valley coach Matt Billman said, “but this was the game that really counts.”
What Billman’s team had in all three encounters was a stout defense.
On Tuesday, while State College (12-7-1) may have managed to match its opponents in shots 11-11, nearly every one of those attempts was from long range.
“We couldn’t get behind them,” Orton said. “Their back four was solid tonight. They didn’t really make any mistakes.”
“They held a strong line and it was hard to get past them,” senior forward Robby Waite said. “We had a couple chances.”
Waite had the best chance of all, 10:30 into the game when he did get a step behind that back line and from about 10 yards away ripped a shot off the crossbar.
“After I hit the crossbar, that’s all I could think about the rest of the game,” Waite said. “It was, ‘Ah, I missed that.’ But we played through it and had a couple other chances. We can’t dwell on the past.”
The Little Lions knew it was a rare opportunity missed.
“Talk about the width of the crossbar,” Orton said. “If that shot was six inches lower, we’re 1-0 up and the game is different. It’s very, very small margins against good teams.”
Cumberland Valley then cashed in on its first scoring opportunity a little over five minutes later, when Jack Abom sent a cross to Bacco, with the senior redirecting the ball into the net.
The other score came on a corner kick 1:21 into the second half, with Ben Zambetti’s boot from the corner bouncing through the crowd assembled in front of the net and finding Katshir unchecked on the far side.
“That’s what we work on,” Katshir said. “We work on trying to get it near post, and we know most of the time we’re going to get it back post, and I’m just there waiting to put it in.”
Aside from those two plays, the Little Lion defense was pretty sound as well. Ty Leway made three saves, and the score to open the second half was the only attempt the Eagles put on the net after intermission.
“We played as well as we could,” Orton said. “We just didn’t quite get the breaks. These games are so tight. We just had two small mistakes, two small, little details, and the game’s gone. That’s a shame for our boys because they had a good season.”
Cumberland Valley did have one major loss, with senior forward and team captain Jesse Zimmerman knocked out with a serious hand injury, but the Eagles reworked the lineup.
The Little Lions will have to focus on next season now, and figure out a way to break through that Cumberland Valley defense.
“It’s all minor,” Orton said. “In an 80-minute game, to concentrate and focus, it’s not an easy thing. We’re playing a team that was ranked 15th in the country a week ago. They punished us.”