DISTRICT 4 GIRLS SOCCER: MIFFLINBURG TAKES DOWN TWO-TIME DEFEDING CLASS AAA CHAMPION ATHENS, 3-2 (24 PHOTOS) (2020-10-31)
By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
ATHENS — To paraphrase a famous American sports entertainer, “to be the champion, you have to beat the champion.”
Mifflinburg did just that here Saturday afternoon, rallying for a 3-2 win over two-time defending Class AAA champion Athens in District 4 girls soccer playoff action.
“I told the girls all year long, ‘if you’re gonna get beat, don’t beat yourselves — make somebody beat you,’” said Athens coach Roch Pitts. “And, Mifflinburg beat us. They are a good team, they moved the ball and played well together.
“I thought we played a full 80 minutes. (Mifflinburg) made some great plays to score some goals,” he noted.
“We knew from playing them last year this was going to be a battle,” added Pitts. “I’m not disappointed with how we played, I don’t know what we could have done differently.”
The majority of the game was played in the Athens defensive end but the Lady Wildcats did strike for a pair of goals late in the first half to take a 2-1 lead into the halftime intermission.
“If you watch (Mifflinburg), they obviously have a good number of travel players who are good on the ball, can move, and know what to do,” said Pitts. “We don’t have that, and that’s OK.
“We work a lot on defending,” he noted. “We’re not afraid to sit-in, and play that counter-attack style of soccer. There are professional teams that have championships that way, and we almost pulled it out today.”
The first 7 1/2 minutes was play predominantly in Mifflinburg’s defensive end.
About 4 minutes into the game, Athens junior Hannah Walker launched a shot toward the goal from 30 yards out that sailed over the crossbar.
About 1 1/2 minutes later, senior Emma Roe, who had a goal and an assist in her final game, made a 50-yard run down the middle of the field, but Mifflinburg defender Makayla Weber poked the ball away deep in the box.
Eight minutes into the game, Athens sophomore keeper Abby Champion touched the ball for the first time.
About one minute later, Champion touched the ball three times in a matter of seconds. Mifflinburg’s Peyton Yocum ripped a shot from 15 yards out that Champion stopped, bout couldn’t control.
Sarah Fritz was on the spot, but her shot from point-blank range also hit Champion. Remi Stahl had the next chance, ripping a shot that also caromed off Champion, who was finally able to corral the ball as it rolled toward the goal line.
In the 11th minute, Walker collected the ball in the open field on the left wing, and fired a shot-on-goal, but Miff keeper Kristi Benfield made a diving stop at the near post.
With 25:44 remaining in the first half, Athens was whistled for a push, and Mifflinburg lined up for a direct kick about 45 yards from the goal. Fritz’s kick from near the out-of-bounds line on the far sideline looped perfectly into the box about 10 yards from the goal, where Yocum’s header re-directed it just inside the near post to give them a 1-0 lead.
Mifflinburg continued to control play for the next 11-plus minutes, until Roe and senior Hannah Blackman worked a give-and-go near midfield, freeing up Roe for a run down the middle of the field. With three defenders converging on her, Roe slid a pass to sophomore Ally Thoman on the left wing.
With little angle for a good shot, Thoman drove a shot over Enfield’s outstretched arms at the near post that settled into the net just inside the far post to tie the game at 1-1 with 14 minutes remaining in the first half.
“For being at short as she is, (Ally Thoman) hits rockets off her foot,” said Pitts. “She hit it upper-90 … the goalie got her hands up, but that was going in — she almost ripped it through the net.”
Almost three minutes later, Roe took a pass from Walker at midfield, beat two defenders, then pushed a pass ahead to herself to beat a third defender. She also beat Benfield to the ball, and knocked a shot inside the far post to give Athens a 2-1 lead with 11:13 remaining in the half.
The teams exchanged scoring chances for the first 18 minutes of the first half, but Athens took the 2-1 lead into the halftime intermission.
With 21:49 remaining in the contest, Avery Metzger beat a pair of Athens defenders on the near sideline, and was able center the ball into the box, where Fritz bodied it past Champion at the near post to tie the game at 2-2.
With 18 1/2 minutes remaining, Roe got free on a breakaway. A hard-charging Benfield got a piece of Roe’s shot, but couldn’t control it. Roe took a quick shot off the rebound, but it rolled wide of the net.
With 6 1/2 minutes remaining, Mifflinburg won a 50-50 ball at midfield and sent a long pass into the box, where Fritz tracked it down about 10 yards from the net, and a hit a low, hard shot past a lunging Champion to put Mifflinburg ahead 3-2.
With Mifflinburg putting seven or defenders back, Athens put a bit of pressure on their net over the next three minutes, but weren’t able to punch through.
The final three minutes was spent in the Athens defensive end.
Athens wraps up the season at 9-3-1.
Pitts said all his seniors will be missed, but got a bit emotional when talking about his “coaches on the field” — Roe and Blackman.
“Not having them around is going to be a little sad, for sure.
“Hannah and Emma are special kids,” he said. “Both of them are fantastic kids.
“You could hear them all game long, all season long, and in practice,” noted Pitts. “I mean, at halftime I would walk over to talk the girls, and I would hear (Hannah and Emma) telling the team exactly what I had in my notes to talk about.
“They are going to be hugely missed,” added Pitts.
IN PHOTO 1: Athens sophomore fires a shot-on-goal that would tie the game at 1-1. … PHOTOS BY DAVID ALLIGER — TRAVELING PORTRAITS.