All year, Bellefonte’s Alex Horner has parked himself in front of the net.
His teammates know to look for him.
On Wednesday night, that strategy paid off as Horner recorded a hat trick to lead the Red Raiders boys’ soccer team to a 3-2 win over Bald Eagle Area in its regular season finale, clinching the Mountain League championship.
“He’s the finisher,” Bellefonte coach Scott Martz said. “He just finishes shots for us.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Centre Daily Times
The Red Raiders (12-4-2) overcame a halftime deficit to earn the victory to finish the season with an 11-2-1 league record. They went unbeaten in their final seven Mountain League games, but Martz saw his team’s potential earlier in the season. Once the Red Raiders offense started to click, he thought they could challenge for the league title.
The offense came through to seal Bellefonte’s run Wednesday night.
“These guys just never quit, we kept plugging away, plugging away, plugging away until we got to this point tonight,” Martz said. “And even down 2-1 at halftime, I was looking at ‘em, we’ve been more of a second-half team this year and I said, ‘We got this guys. We got this yet.’
“In their minds, they knew it, they knew they had this tonight.”
The Red Raiders came out of the break more aggressive.
They tied the game 2-2 in the 54th minute on a header by Horner.
The goal-scoring opportunity was set up when Horner pushed the ball down the field with four Bald Eagle Area defenders surrounding him. Horner couldn’t break free, but Bellefonte’s Marco Mazzei battled for the ball, leading to a throw-in for the Red Raiders.
Noah Gaus made the throw and Horner found the back of the net.
“When you play on football fields and smaller fields, those throw-ins are huge,” BEA coach Jason Bair said. “And we try and do the same things so no surprise on that. But they were just the more aggressive team.”
Martz was feeling confident on the sidelines.
“I knew we were going to get that third one if we could just muster that second one in,” Martz said.
The third goal quickly followed.
This time, Horner finished in traffic after a throw-in to give his team the lead in the 56th minute.
Horner took off toward the sideline after the go-ahead goal, sprinting down a line of waiting teammates for high-fives and continuing the celebration just past midfield.
The Red Raiders were closing in on the title.
They just had to hold off the Eagles (11-4-2), who are now 9-2-2 in league play.
Led by goalie Josh Gaus, who entered in the second half and made four saves, the Bellefonte defense got the job done.
“Our defense has been solid all year long,” Martz said. “I’ve given those guys free rein back there to do a little bit more. They’ve played three years back there together.”
They kept BEA off the board after the Eagles took a 2-1 lead in the first half behind goals from Nick Zink and Jared Gettig.
Nearly three minutes after Gettig’s goal, BEA had a chance to add to its lead.
But Seth Koleno’s shot hit high off the post.
“It would have changed the whole game,” Bair said. “I thought it was in, I was already celebrating and it hit the post and spun itself out, so an inch lower and I think the game would be a little bit different.”