The Bellefonte girls’ soccer team knew what to expect from top-seeded Juniata.
The Lady Red Raiders watched the Indians play last week, getting a look at the talented group they’d have to upset to accomplish one of their goals.
Bellefonte pushed unbeaten Juniata in the District 6 Class AA semifinals Tuesday night, taking the lead twice early to put the Indians in an unfamiliar position. But Juniata recovered to take the lead in the first half and controlled the game in the second half of a 3-2 win over fourth-seeded Bellefonte at Alumni Stadium.
“They’re an undefeated team and they’re a very well put together team,” Bellefonte coach Stacey Miller said. “They played us tough and I think that we gave them a challenge tonight and they were surprised, I think, at what we put on the field against them. I was proud of my girls.”
Juniata (21-0-1) rolled to a 4-0 win over eight-seeded Forest Hills to open the district playoffs last week. The Indians will face second-seeded Somerset in the championship game at 6 p.m. Thursday at Mansion Park. Somerset beat Bedford 2-1 in its semifinal Tuesday.
The Indians dominated their competition all season.
But it was the Lady Red Raiders who jumped out in front early behind goals by Alana Masullo and Morgan Brooks.
“Tonight we faced some adversity that we hadn’t seen before,” Juniata coach Brian Strawser said. “That’s the first time we gave up two goals in a single game. It’s the first time we had to come from behind twice.”
Bellefonte got on the board 4:54 into the game.
Madisen Paige lined up a shot from the left side and lofted it toward the goal. The ball floated over Juniata goalkeeper Maddy Marrone, on its way to the back of the net when Masullo knocked it in on a header for the goal. Paige picked up the assist, and the Lady Red Raiders led 1-0.
“We gave her (Paige) time to turn and she did a good job finishing it,” Strawser said. “Typically we have somebody right there on her back and they’re not even going to get the turn, let along get a shot off. We lost our focus there and did not pressure her enough.”
Juniata answered 34 seconds later.
Bellefonte goalkeeper Nicole Peggs, who finished with 12 saves, turned away one attempt but couldn’t corral the ball.
Juniata’s Elisabeth Ritzman kicked the rebound into the back of the net to even the score 1-1.
But the Lady Red Raiders maintained possession and capitalized on its second shot.
This time, Brooks received a pass, turned and sent another shot beyond the reach of Marrone and into the back of the net. Brooks went down with an injury early in the second half, and she was taken off the field on a stretcher. Miller said she had not received an update on Brooks after the game.
“Our defense has like 15 shutouts this year,” Strawser said. “They’ve been strong all year. “We have all the confidence in the world in our defense.”
The Indians’ defense locked down Bellefonte for the rest of the night as the Lady Red Raiders finished with just six shot attempts.
And the offense struck quickly to pull even.
Nearly three minutes after Brooks’ goal, Juniata’s Christen Baublitz took a pass from Ritzman and sent a shot toward the right post.
The ball ricocheted off the post for a goal, tying the score at 2-2 with 26:28 left in the first half.
Juniata took the lead when Janelle Swartz dribbled through the Bellefonte defense and finished just more than six minutes before the break.
Bellefonte remained within one goal throughout the second half, withstanding constant pressure by the Juniata offense.
“We just kept talking about picking up marks and making sure everybody had their marks so nobody could get free on a breakaway or a run,” Miller said. “And I think our defense and our midfield executed that very well.”
The Indians also saw multiple shots go off the post, unable to add to their lead.
But they owned possession for nearly the entire second half.
Bellefonte’s strong start put a scare in the top seed, but the Lady Red Raiders fell one game short of playing for the district title.
“We were able to claim the Mountain League championship and our goal was to be able to be in that final game for that district championship,” Miller said, “but next year, we’ll be there.”