Tigers reach summit
By John Hartsock
The nine seniors on Hollidaysburg Area High School’s boys soccer team have been playing the sport together for the last half-decade.
And, thanks to the Golden Tigers’ spirited second-half surge in Wednesday night’s District 6 Class 3A title game, those seniors will wrap up their scholastic careers as champions.
Senior midfielder Christian Kendziora and senior forward Kyle Whitaker enabled the Golden Tigers to break a scoreless tie with goals early in the second half, leading third-seeded Hollidaysburg to its first district boys soccer championship since 2010, with a 3-0 victory over top seed Bellefonte at Mansion Park.
Hollidaysburg (12-7) will face the winner of Saturday’s WPIAL championship game between Chartiers Valley and Mars in an opening-round PIAA Class 3A matchup next Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
Whitaker’s breakaway goal at the 12:39 mark of the second half gave Hollidaysburg a 2-0 lead and provided some insurance after Kendziora had put the Tigers on the board with a goal 57 seconds into the second half.
Hollidaysburg lost to State College in last year’s District 6 championship game, but Whitaker and his Golden Tigers were determined to seal the deal Wednesday night.
“It’s nice to get redemption,” Whitaker said. “Especially for this group of players, who’ve been playing together for five-plus years.”
Kendziora scored the all-important first goal of the game by getting his foot on a loose ball in front of the Bellefonte cage and drilling a shot high into the net less than a minute into the second half.
“The ball came to me at the top of the box and I hit into the top right corner of the net,” Kendziora said.
Both coaches agreed that the first goal of the game was pivotal.
“That was a great goal for Christian,” Hollidaysburg coach Craig Shale said. “It was his first goal of the season, and he got it when we needed it. I thought our guys played with a lot of confidence in the second half.”
Bellefonte coach Scott Martz, whose team finished a 12-5-2 season, felt that Hollidaysburg carried the play to his team in the second half.
“I thought we played very well in the first half, but we kind of fell apart in the second half,” Martz said. “As soon as they got that first goal, it took the wind out of our sails.”
Whitaker’s goal about 12 minutes later further deflated Bellefonte’s chances and put Hollidaysburg squarely into the driver’s seat.
Whitaker broke down the middle of the field and beat Bellefonte junior keeper Josh Gaus on an unassisted effort to make it a 2-0 game.
“My teammates play a lot of through balls up top and I know that they can get the ball to me,” Whitaker said. “I just got in on a breakaway, got past (Bellefonte’s) defenders, and I put the ball past the keeper into the corner of the cage.”
Hollidaysburg, which outshot Bellefonte, 9-5 in the second half and 18-10 overall, sewed up the victory when junior midfielder Conor Pielmeier took senior midfielder Austin Burket’s assist and scored from the right side at the 21:17 mark to put Hollidaysburg ahead, 3-0.
On a night when Bellefonte’s serious scoring chances were few and far between against Hollidaysburg junior keeper Seth Lowey, the second-half outburst gave the Golden Tigers plenty of breathing room.
“We couldn’t get any offense going tonight,” Martz said. “We didn’t put a lot of pressure on them, and Hollidaysburg’s defense may deserve the credit for that.”
Dominating the second half gave Hollidaysburg its first district title in six years, and a berth in next week’s PIAA playoffs.
“In the second half, we played more of our game,” Shale said. “We have nine seniors who can now go out on top as District 6 champs. Our last championship was in 2010. It’s nice to get another banner on the wall.”
SCORE BY HALVES
Bellefonte 0 0 — 0
Hollidaysburg 0 3 — 3
First half: No scoring.
Second half: 1, H–Kendziora (unassisted), :57. 2, H–Whitaker (unassisted), 12:39. 3, H–Pielmeier (Burket), 21:17.
Records: Hollidaysburg (12-7); Bellefonte (12-5-2).