Tigers edge Central Columbia
DANVILLE – The Northwestern girls soccer team was in the right place Tuesday at Danville’s Ironmen Stadium.
To be sure, the stadium nickname was rather apropos for the Tigers. Somehow, someway, this band of girls found the strength to compete and advance in a grueling 80-minute state matchup with Central Columbia, which was playing in its own backyard.
After it looked like the Blue Jays were going to post the first goal late in the second half — only to have the possible score nullified off a direct kick — one could feel the Tigers’ hopes inflated.
With scoring at a premium, and both teams locking horns in a defensive battle, the first tally would prove to be an enormous boost to the club that hit the back of the net.
With the clock winding down, Northwestern’s dynamic senior duo of Jenna Lowthert and Bailey Groff were the reason their team would score the only goal of the night, leading to a thrilling 1-0 victory in the opening round of the PIAA Class 2A tournament.
The setup and the kick were in sync, coming with just 6:18 to go in the contest. Even Tigers’ coach Kelly Bleam could feel the tense moments throughout the second half.
“We knew this was going to be quite a defensive battle,” said Bleam. “It’s very hard work to score against a team as good (defensively) as they were.”
Certainly, playing in a game of such magnitude and one as tighltly contested, could start to play mind games and wear on a team mentally.
“Yeah, it probably would have,” Bleam agreed about the weariness had the game gone into overtime. “Fortunately, it didn’t get to that point.”
The Blue Jays (18-2-2) had the upper hand in the second half with more potential opportunities. But every time they tried to make a pass, or look to make a rush toward the Tigers’ end, the winners kept repelling threats with defense and quickness.
“Yes, they had a lot of quick (players),” said Central Columbia coach Kelly Calvert. “This is really (tough) to lose … We tried to outwork them, they had some key players (that) concerned us. We didn’t want to hyper focus on that, though.”
The way the Jays kept trying to attack the defense was spreading things out wide. However, Northwestern remained strong, and freshman goalie Naomi Glassberg never cringed.
“She did a really good job for us,” said Bleam. “She plays well beyond her (grade) level. And I really thought Bailey Groff played well for us; she’s the one who had the assist on the goal … She was just terrific.”
While the first half was about a 50-50 split, things started to tilt in Central Columbia’s favor in the second half as the Blue Jays kept forcing the issue.
But in the end, the Tigers (22-2) dug in. They never let their defense sag, and when the final chips were on the table, they found a way to win.
“We’ve got a lot of great leaders on this team,” said Bleam.
And a tough mindset, too.
QUOTABLE … “I’m really excited, but it’s a long road ahead,” said Bleam.
BY THE NUMBERS … Central Columbia had nine shots on goal; Northwestern ended with six. Glassberg collected eight saves, compared to three for CC sophomore Morgan James. The Tigers had the edge in corner kicks, 6-3.
KNOCKED DOWN HARD … Northwestern’s Kyle Zentz was knocked down hard at the end and had to be helped off the field. “Unfortunately, there was no place for that type (of) hit,” said Bleam.
ON TAP … The Tigers advance to meet Lake Lehman, which defeated Boiling Springs. The game will be played Saturday.