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Tigers hold on, advance

DUBOIS — The Bradford Lady Owls were the better team for nearly 65 minutes of game action on Wednesday night.

They outchanced Hollidaysburg, limited scoring opportunities the other way and, most importantly, outscored their opponent 3-1 in that span.

But a sluggish start in which Bradford allowed three goals in the game’s opening 15 minutes ultimately doomed them in a 4-3 loss to the Golden Tigers in the PIAA Class AAA play-in game on a rain-soaked DuBois High School field.

Hollidaysburg outshot Bradford 25-11 in the game with Golden Tiger goaltender Meghan Cutshall making six saves in the contest, including a couple of impressive stops of her own.

It’s the second straight season Bradford has lost to the Golden Tigers (13-5) in the play-in game, though it’s a marked improvement over last year’s 3-0 loss that saw the Lady Owls (12-6-1) tally just one shot on target.

Hollidaysburg’s Lizzie Johnson started the scoring 2:21 into the game when she settled a ball in the crease and made no mistake with the shot on a point-blank opportunity.

Alyssa Bell then scored less than 50 seconds later and added her second goal of the night at the 14:58 mark on a chip over the goalie’s head to give the Golden Tigers a 3-0 lead over a stunned Bradford outfit.

Despite having a two-week layoff, Bradford coach Warren Shaw wasn’t using that as an excuse for his team’s slow start.

“We just didn’t step to the balls in the first 3-to-5 minutes,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s from not having played; I think it’s more of it being a big stage. “We have young players, some of them were here last year and we did better than last year. We took the game to them. We were ready to play, I just think that this group probably doesn’t need warmups, they just need to jump on the field. The anticipation kind of gets to them.”

Whatever hampered the Lady Owls in those first 15 minutes, they quickly found a solution. Less than 90 seconds after Bell’s second tally, Bradford’s top two playmakers went to work.

Freshman Maddi Cowburn delivered a long pass to Regan Johnson streaking up the wing and Johnson blasted it off the post and into the net to make it 3-1.

Then, just before the half, Cowburn found Johnson again on the wing. She just got her shot off before a trailing Hollidaysburg defender could step to her and it again glanced off the post and in to cut the deficit to one at the break.

At halftime, Hollidaysburg coach Dave Soellner admitted that his message to his team was simply to try and slow down the duo of Johnson and Cowburn up front.

“With the rain and ball skipping and everything, (Bradford) was trying to play through Cowburn and Johnson,” he said. “We just told the girls you have to know where they are. You have to mark them. You take them out of the equation, we can win the battle here.”

The Golden Tigers responded to Soellner’s message, but not before adding an insurance goal of their own.

Following a Bradford hand ball in the box at the 6:21 mark, Hollidaysburg’s Rita Kendziora capitalized on a penalty kick. That marker would prove to be vital later on.

After a tight 25 minutes that saw few chances for either team, the Lady Owls broke through with more strong play up front. Switching up their passing and shooting roles, it was Johnson who this time delivered the ball to Cowburn. She took Johnson’s pass to the 15-yard-line and delivered the highlight of the game on a beautiful arching shot that glanced off the crossbar and in.

It would prove to be Bradford’s last shot of the game, however, as Hollidaysburg was able to control most of the possession in the waning minutes to hold off the comeback attempt and advance to next week’s PIAA first round.

“On Monday, we started with four goals in the first 15 minutes in the District 6 (championship game), so we’ve been working and talking on starting fast and trying to put two halves together,” Soellner said. “I thought toward the end of the first half we were a little sluggish, but I think they made the right adjustments in the second half.”

For the first time all season, the Lady Owls started the game with someone other than Mackenzie Lucas in net. Instead, it was transfer student Lea Kakolewski. Not only was it Kakolewski’s first game, it was also the first time she was eligible after having to sit out a mandated 20 days. Though she allowed those three goals early, the junior made 13 saves in the game – including a couple impressive ones to keep her team in it late in the first half.

“She worked her butt off in practice, and I thought she played a really good game tonight,” Shaw said. “The longer she stays with us, we’ll tweak some things and she’ll be a stud next year.”

SCORE BY HALVES

Hollidaysburg 3 1–4

Bradford 2 1–3

First Half: HB-Johnson (Tryninewski), 2:11; HB-Bell (John), 3:07; HB-Bell (Natalie Despot), 14:58; BR-Lucas (unassisted), 16:13; BR-Cowburn (unassisted), 33:03

Second Half: HB-Kendziora (PK), 6:21; BR-Johnson (unassisted), 34:20.

Records: Hollidaysburg (13-6) Bradford (12-5-1)

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