Tigers valiant in elimination game
By John Hartsock
His Hollidaysburg Area High School boys soccer team had just come out on the short end of a 2-1 score against WPIAL runner-up Mars High School in a PIAA Class 3A first-round playoff game at Mansion Park Tuesday night.
But in the eyes of Golden Tigers coach Craig Shale, every one of his players had gone out a winner.
District 6 champion Hollidaysburg had left it all out on the turf and given its very best effort. The Golden Tigers had simply fallen a bit short, and there was no shame in that.
“It was a really well-played game by both sides,” Shale said. “I felt that it was one of the best games our guys have played all season. We gave it our best shot.”
Mars (17-4) broke a 1-1 tie on freshman forward Austin Rocke’s goal with just 5:30 remaining. Rocke took an assist from sophomore defender Garrett Riddle and beat Hollidaysburg junior goalkeeper Seth Lowey with a low, well-placed kick.
“Garrett played a great ball,” Rocke said. “I was just at the right place at the right time, and scored.”
Rocke’s goal made the difference in a game in which Mars outshot Hollidaysburg, 14-6, while also hitting two goalposts in the second half.
“It was a game that could have gone either way,” Shale said. “But it came down to half a chance, and (Rocke) got the ball on a low cross and that’s what won the game.”
Mars moves on to play District 3 champion Lower Dauphin, a 3-0 winner over Holy Ghost Prep on Tuesday, in the quarterfinal round Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
Hollidaysburg wrapped up a 12-8 season.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Mars coach Chris Knauff said. “Hollidaysburg is definitely a very dangerous team with a lot of skilled players. I thought that my team picked up its level of play in the second half, and we finally got one toward the end.”
Mars opened the scoring at the 24:23 mark of the first half, when junior forward Cory Ferguson converted an assist from junior forward Corey Heim.
Lowey came up big on a pair of first-half saves for Hollidaysburg, stopping a two-shot flurry at the five-minute mark and corraling sophomore forward Zane Mundy’s flush-on shot at the 17-minute mark.
Hollidaysburg tied the score, 1-1, when senior defender Kiernan Miles scored from the box with less than five minutes to play in the first half.
“Once that goal went in, it was game on for us, and we started to believe that we could win,” Shale said. “We came into this game expecting Mars to be a really good team, and it took us 20 to 25 minutes before we got the notion that we could play with them.”
In the second half, Mars senior midfielder Spencer Hnath rattled the right goalpost with a kick around the six-minute mark, then booted a high kick off the upper left goalpost 20 minutes into the half.
Lowey made two solid saves at the 10-minute and 12-minute marks, and Mars senior goalkeeper Emin Diren made a nice stop on a shot by Hollidaysburg junior midfielder Conor Pielmeier at around the 16:30 mark.
It all set the table for Rocke to come up with the decisive goal as time was winding down.
“He’s a freshman, and he’s a very hard-working, skilled player,” Knauff said of Rocke.
Hollidaysburg graduates nine seniors who wound up their scholastic soccer careers this fall by winning the school’s first District 6 boys soccer championship since 2010.
“This is a great core group of nine seniors who won a district championship that nobody can take away from them, and played a very close game in the state playoffs,” Shale said. “They have a lot to be proud of, and they are going out in style.”
SCORE BY HALVES
Mars 1 1 — 2
Hollidaysburg 1 0 — 1
First half: 1, M–Cory Ferguson (Heim), 24:23. 2, H–Miles (Burket, Pielmeier), 35:02.
Second half: 3, M–Rocke (Riddle), 34:30.
Records: Mars (17-4); Hollidaysburg (12-8).