Altoona ends State College’s 6-year run

By Todd Irwin

For the Mirror

WINGATE — Altoona senior Michael Bartley shivered standing on the artificial turf as the temperature dipped to about 35 degrees on Tuesday night at Bald Eagle Area’s Alumni Stadium.

The gold medal around his neck warmed his heart, though.

“It’s amazing,” Bartley said. “It’s once in a lifetime (accomplishment) coming in my senior year. It’s what I needed.”

Bartley and the rest of the Mountain Lions stopped State College’s six-year reign as District 6 champion with a defensive-laden 1-0 victory in the Class 4A title game.

“It feels fantastic,” Altoona coach Dave McCarter said. “It’s a credit to these guys and their effort. They played our match tonight. All phases of the game were fantastic. We defended well. We played well in the midfield. In goal, Brady (Freiwald) was fantastic.”

It was the Mountain Lions’ first District 6 title since 2007 and the program’s third, with the first coming in 1998.

The only goal scored in the game was an own goal at 10:01 of the first half, when State College’s Scott Morelli passed the ball to his goalkeeper, Jason Keller, who misplayed the pass and watched as the ball rolled into the goal.

“Hey, I’ll take it,” McCarter said with a laugh. “It’s a strange thing. It’s one of those things that happens in all types of matches like this, and it’s one of those things that puts you over the top. It’s a great way to win any way you can, as far as I’m concerned.”

“It’s crazy,” Freiwald said. “Luck has to be on your side to win a district championship.”

“The process for Scott to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper was right,” State College coach Danny Orton said. “It was just an unfortunate bobble or something. Very unlucky.”

The first half ended with the oddest of stat lines. Altoona (14-3-2) led, 1-0, but the Mountain Lions didn’t have a shot on goal. For the game, Keller made three saves, while Altoona sophomore Freiwald made eight saves.

“The stat sheet is going to be pretty ugly,” McCarter said. “We opened up a little bit. We had a couple directs, and we had some great corner chances. It wasn’t like we didn’t have any looks at goal. We just didn’t put anything on frame in those first 40 minutes.”

The goalkeeper gets much of the credit in soccer, but the Mountain Lions’ defense always came up with the right play when it needed to.

“Stellar,” McCarter said. “They’ve been a rock all year. They’ve been led by Michael Bartley, a great senior player for us. They just cleaned everything up. They just took care of what defenses need to do.”

“That’s our goal – score and play solid defense,” Bartley said.

“Altoona defended really, really well, especially in the second half,” Orton said. “It was hard to get behind or get through them.”

The win came 11 days after losing to Mid-Penn Commonwealth champion State College, 2-0, at State’s Memorial Field. What was the difference this time against the Little Lions (13-6-1)?

“I think it was just intensity,” Freiwald said. “We picked it up.”

It was the second straight shutout for Freiwald, who was the winning goalie in an 8-0 win over Philipsburg-Osceola in the regular season finale. State College’s best chance at scoring came early in the second half, when Zach Price took a shot close to the goal, but Freiwald stopped it with ease.

“He knows when to step to the ball. He knows when to stay home. He knows all of the angles,” McCarter said. “He covered directs well, and he covered corners well. He did exactly what we needed him to do.”

Altoona’s first shot on goal came at 32:12 of the second half, and Bartley nearly scored a little later, but his boot hit the crossbar.

The Altoona fans started to feel a win coming on in the last 4 minutes of the game, reacting with every good defense or pass.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Altoona bench erupted in celebration across the field. Afterward, they passed around the district championship trophy and posed for photos in the cold.

“I was hugging my teammates,” Bartley said. “I was pumped. I was ready to get this medal.”

“I was so excited, I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Freiwald said. “I just ran over to Coach and congratulated him.”

“This says we have a ton of character,” McCarter said. “These guys come to play every match. They love game day. It’s one of those things where they respond when the bell rings, and that happens all the time for this team.”

The Lions will return to action on Saturday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs against the District 10 champion at a time to be announced. McCarter said the game could be at home or at Hollidaysburg.

SCORE BY HALVES

Altoona 1 0 — 1

State College 0 0 — 0

First half: A–Own goal, 10:01

Saves: Freiwald, A, 8; Keller, SC, 3

Records: Altoona (14-3-2); State College (13-6-1)

COMMENTS