After winning the District 6 Class AAA boys soccer championship game, 3-2 in double overtime against archrival State College last Wednesday, Hollidaysburg's mission was to maintain its momentum as the first round of the PIAA playoffs unfolded Tuesday night.
The Golden Tigers were unable to do so, however, in large part because the team they were playing Tuesday night, Hempfield of the Lancaster area, was so territorially sound and thoroughly skilled.
Hempfield controlled the field from start to finish and scored a goal in each half to defeat Hollidaysburg, 2-0, at Mansion Park and end a 15-4-1 season for the Golden Tigers.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Hollidaysburg goalie Justin Hann goes for the save in a crowd against Hempfield.
Hempfield (21-4) advanced to the quarterfinal round of the PIAA playoffs against Pennsbury of District 1 on Saturday at a site and time to be announced.
Hollidaysburg coach Craig Shale, whose team was outshot by Hempfield, 10-1, credited the winning team with a sound effort.
"We were just outplayed by a great team,'' Shale said. "They're just in a different class. Half the players on their team play on one of the top travel teams in the Lancaster area, and that's a hotbed for high school soccer.''
Hempfield was only the fourth-seeded team out of District 3, which left Shale and the Golden Tigers scratching their heads Tuesday.
"The scary thing is that they're a fourth seed [and not higher],'' Shale said. "Their movement off the ball was amazing tonight. They controlled everything.''
The score would have been more one-sided had it not been for the outstanding goaltending of Hollidaysburg sophomore keeper Justin Hann, who made several outstanding saves among his eight stops.
"He did come up big for us in the last two games,'' Shale said of Hann, who also shined in the district championship game after senior starter Jarrod Wassell suffered a PCL tear in his knee. "[Hann] had another good, solid game for us [Tuesday]. But as a team, we just couldn't get going.''
Hempfield got the only goal it would need just over four minutes into the game. Senior midfielder Connor Goldsmith dumped a pass into Hollidaysburg's end of the field, creating a race for the ball between senior forward Zach Hollinger and Hann that Hollinger won. Hollinger slipped the ball into the lower left corner of the net to put Hempfield ahead to stay, 1-0.
"Hollinger was able to beat their keeper into space on that play, and Goldsmith gave him a nice through pass,'' Hempfield coach Mark Ashley said. "[Hollinger] redirected the ball more than he shot it on that play.''
On a night in which Hollidaysburg generated very few offensive threats, the opening goal would prove to be very important.
Hempfield's second goal, on a penalty kick from directly in front of Hollidaysburg's goal by Hempfield senior forward Dylan Andrews, came with 27:03 remaining in the game and put the winners ahead, 2-0.
"The penalty kick made us breathe a little easier,'' Ashley said. "We weren't really comfortable until we got that goal. [Hollidaysburg] has a lot of athletic guys and we knew they have firepower. So we didn't feel that a one-goal lead was safe.''
It was this time, however, as Hempfield's athleticism and speed dominated the game for all 80 minutes.
"We had a really good season, and we won the district championship, which nobody can take away from us,'' Shale said. "I'm proud of the way we played all season, but we couldn't repeat tonight what we did against State College, because [Hempfield] wouldn't let us. They played really well.''
Hollidaysburg graduates four senior starters, but returns an excellent nucleus of four sophomores and three juniors who started last night's game.
"The four seniors will be tough to replace, but we have a good nucleus returning,'' Shale said. "We'll be solid next year.''
SCORE BY HALVES
Hempfield 1 1 - 2
Hollidaysburg 0 0 - 0
First Half: 1, HEM-Hollinger (Goldsmith), 35:59.
Second Half: 2, HEM-Andrews (penalty kick), 27:03.
Shots on goal: Hempfield 10, Hollidaysburg 1.
Records: Hempfield (21-4); Hollidaysburg (15-4-1).