Monday was a tough night to be a No. 2 seed in the District 5-6 Class AA playoffs.
After No. 6 Juniata’s 3-2 win over No. 2 Central on the girls’ side, No. 3 Bald Eagle Area advanced to the championship game at Mansion Park with a 1-0 win over No. 2 Cambria Heights.
The Eagles will be in the title game for the first time in program history. They will square off with No. 1 Everett, which beat No. 4 Bedford 3-1, on Thursday. The teams are set for a 5:30 p.m. kick at Mansion Park.
“I’m pretty excited as a coach,” said BEA’s Jason Bair, who has coached the team for all 17 years it’s been around. “I’m pretty excited for these players for all the hard work that they put in.”
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The Eagles dominated the game with possession and a 13-7 shot advantage. It was just a matter of time until the Highlanders’ defense would break.
“We were waiting for that one break for that ball to go in,” Bair said. “There were multiple opportunities where we had it. We just didn’t get enough of a foot on the ball to put it in.”
BEA’s break came with just under six minutes to go.
The Eagles got a throw in from Joey Gates from about 10 yards out on the far sideline. Gates was able to heave the ball to the far post to a wide open Garrett Giedroc. The sophomore corralled it on his foot and put it in the upper corner for the eventual game-winning score.
“My role is supposed to be there,” Giedroc said. “It just felt great. I was in the right spot at the right moment. I give the props to my team because we played well together.”
Underclassmen have played a huge role for BEA in its run to the championship game. In last week’s quarterfinal win over Forest Hills, the Eagles got the game-winning goal from sophomore Noah Zink.
“Our team is not about who scores its about when we score and how we score it as a team,” Bair said. “Each person steps up. There have been years where I haven’t been able to sub out my better players because I had no one to take their spots.
“I don’t have that problem with this team. I’m able to sub out my highest-quality guys to put in somebody who I know can hold it.”
Bair has a saying he has instilled on the team all year long: “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.”
The Eagles’ defense was like a rubber band on Monday night. It would get stretched but it never broke. It gave up just two shots in the entire second half and didn’t allow a single corner kick.
Leading the group was goal keeper Hunter Etters, who finished with four saves.
“I’m not sure how he made it through the game,” said Bair, who said that Etters was battling the flu. “He’s going to spend the next couple of days in bed and get ready for Thursday.”
The Highlanders tried to get the ball to bounce and have speedy Matthew Weimert run it down to attempt a breakaway. The BEA defense thwarted those efforts.
The Highlanders got their first real scoring opportunity with 15:29 to go in the game. They got a nice cross from the far side to a rising Tyler Scott in the middle of the box, but his header sailed wide of the far post.
With 9:10 left, the Highlanders got another opportunity closer to the net, but just like all the other times, the Eagles’ defenders swarmed the ball and cleared the harm.
Giedroc’s score came three minutes later. From there, Bair knew what to do.
“I’m going, ‘OK, ‘D’ you got us here now take us through,’” Bair said. “We’ve got to rely on our defense. It wasn’t just the defense though, because the last two or three minutes we held the ball.”