---- — By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
HAMBURG -- Before the Southern Columbia players ran out onto the field to celebrate, assistant coach Jenn Stine yelled for them to gather around her for a second as she held a small plastic bin.
She quickly opened it to reveal a bunch of Hershey chocolate bars. The players all laughed and smiled as they each reached in to grab one.
Every player obviously appreciated the symbolism as Hershey is where the Tigers are headed next.
Southern Columbia left Hamburg High School with a thrilling 1-0 victory over Tulpehocken on a chilly Tuesday night, earning the program's first state championship game appearance.
The Tigers will face District 7 runner-up Greensburg Central Catholic, a 2-0 winner over Shady Side, on Friday at 5 p.m. at HersheyPark Stadium.
The win marked the 13th shutout for Southern Columbia, tied for most in the Valley this season.
Southern Columbia (22-1-1) scored the lone goal of the night early in the first half. Teanna Shutt sent a great pass from about 20 yards to just a few yards from the goal. That's where Maddie Stabinski made a great heads-up play.
"I saw that it was going over Bailey's (Bzdak) head and I knew I had to put it in because you could tell from the beginning that they were going to be a tough team," Stabinski said.
The senior midfielder took it off just one bounce and fired to the top-middle of the net to score with 34:47 to play in the first half.
A few minutes later, Bzdak looked as if she was going to put in a huge second goal when she fired a high shot from only a few yards out, only to see it hit off the center of the crossbar. The ball then went straight up and down, bouncing in front of an open net, but was quickly booted out of harm's way by the Tulpehocken back line.
The Tigers maintained possession for a majority of the game, yielding just eight total shots to the District 3 champion Lady Trojans (22-2) -- five of which came in the first half. They held the Lady Trojans to no shots on goal in the second half.
But while the defense of Southern Columbia was great the entire night, its offense didn't play up to par.
"We laid back a little and I think we were playing not to allow them to score where we should be playing to score more, honestly," Southern Columbia coach Derek Stine said.
"We definitely weren't playing our best, but we did enough to hold them back," Bzdak said. "Our defense has done a great job this year throughout the entire year."
Bzdak eventually shifted from forward to center-mid to help strengthen the Tigers' defense with about 15 minutes remaining in the game.
Tulpehocken's best opportunity to score came with about 2:50 to play until halftime when the Lady Trojans had a corner kick. Victoria Stump took a loose ball from the corner and, from roughly three yards out, drilled a shot to the near post only to see Southern Columbia goalie Abbey Herr drop to her knees and scoop it up, preventing the tying score.
"She stepped it up. Coming into this game she was probably a little nervous -- I would be, any kid would be at her age -- but she's getting some big-game experience now and it's making a big difference," Stine said. "And her height is a great advantage, too. If she lays out, she can cover half the goal. Her height is a big advantage to us. It really is."
Stump's shot was the only Tulpehocken attempt from within 15 yards against the Tigers.
The Tigers recorded nine shots in the first half, but were held to just three in the second half.
"It was frustrating -- the whole game was frustrating -- but we're going to Hershey, so that's all that matters," Stabinski said with a laugh.