---- — By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
ALMEDIA -- Once the clock hit 10 seconds, the Southern Columbia fans started counting down in deafening unison.
When they hit zero, the fans erupted in a loud cheer that could rival a home football game, and every Southern player ran onto the field and celebrated one of the most exciting wins in the program's recent history.
"That was really exciting. We did not want to lose and we were going to keep fighting so we didn't lose," Southern Columbia sophomore Haley Levan said. "I did not want it to be our last game and I definitely think we can go a lot farther. We had a shaky first half, but we definitely played our hearts out in the second half."
For everyone in attendance, what was exciting was just how the Tigers rallied to leave Blue Jay Stadium with a win Tuesday night.
After facing a huge 3-0 deficit at the half, Southern Columbia beat Schuylkill Haven by scoring five unanswered goals in the first round of the PIAA Class A state tournament.
The Tigers advance to Saturday's quarterfinals against Halifax at a time and site to be determined.
The District 11 champion Hurricanes got off to a solid start against the District 4 champion Tigers (20-1-1), firing at will in the first half and building the 3-0 lead through the first 40 minutes.
The speedy duo of Rileigh Evitts and Kelsey Sisko scored all three goals. Evitts scored with a Sisko assist with 29:38 to play in the first half before Sisko added two unassisted scores of her own, the final one coming with 2:14 remaining.
The Tigers offense struggled in the first half, as shot after shot seemed to either miss the goal completely or ricochet off a post.
But Southern came out like a new team in the second half, and once the Tigers found the back of the net for their first goal, the momentum just kept building.
Levan scored to snap the shutout off the rebound of a Mackenzie Haladay shot that bounced off the post.
Just over two minutes later, Teanna Shutt scored off a Bailey Bzdak assist. Sammy Thomas then rifled in a shot to the far post from about 25 yards out to tie the game 40 seconds after Shutt's goal.
"We all kind of stepped up because we didn't want this to be our last game with our seniors," Southern Columbia junior Aly Stavinski said. "We have an incredible team and it was just incredible to come out there and score fast and win."
In just a six-minute span in the second half, Southern Columbia went from trailing 3-0 to leading 4-3 and completely dominating Schuylkill Haven.
Shutt scored the go-ahead goal off a Stavinski pass with 25:58 to play. Nearly 13 minutes later, Levan came through with a huge goal to make it a 5-3 and stun the Hurricanes.
"That's really nice to see that coming through because they're our future," Southern Columbia coach Derek Stine said of his underclassmen stepping up. "We said from the beginning, this is a team from the best girl (all the way down). It's just exciting. It's a lot of fun."
Southern Columbia put tremendous pressure on Schuylkill Haven in the second half as well, constantly keeping the ball in the Hurricanes' end as the Tigers' defense refused to yield another goal and let any momentum swing back to the Hurricanes.
Southern Columbia out-shot Schuylkill Haven in the win, 26-13, and the Hurricanes had just three total shots in the second half, only one on goal.
"Everybody was determined from the forwards all the way back to the defenders," Stavinski said. "Everyone was determined not to let that ball go back in and keep our win."