---- — By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
BLOOMSBURG -- The ball went wide of its intended target and East Juniata fans could have been forgiven for thinking that they were in the clear.
However, an instant later, the ball was in the back of the net from Southern Columbia's Haley Levan.
The goal from the sophomore midfielder with 2:51 left gave Southern Columbia a hard-fought 2-1 victory over East Juniata in a District 4 Class A quarterfinal.
"I knew sooner or later, I was going to get a header in but I was so glad it finally came so we could win," Levan said. "It was much-needed. I knew we were going to score but I wasn't sure when."
The goal from Levan sent the Southern Columbia crowd into a frenzy with the time winding down in a game that was controlled by Southern almost the entire way.
"She's great with her head, just had to get a chance to get her head on it," Southern Columbia coach Derek Stine said regarding Levan.
With the win, Southern will face Troy in the semifinal round after the Trojans defeated Sayre earlier in the day.
Despite peppering East Juniata goalkeeper Lydia Hunter with shots, the top seed was not able to break through until the second half, as Hunter dove and stretched around the goal to keep the ball out.
"Our defense showed up well. I knew we were going to have a tough battle," East Juniata coach Lori Goodling said. "We just told our girls to work for 80 minutes today and I thought they did that."
East Juniata was looking for an upset in the nine-versus-one matchup in an attempt to return to the state playoffs. For much of the game, it appeared that East Juniata may be able to find the one break it needed to split open a tie game.
With time running out on its season, East Juniata found its opportunity on a corner from the right side with five minutes left. The corner was headed wide as Southern pressed its defense tight to prevent a ball from sneaking through.
McKayla Goodling sprinted to the loose ball, dribbled and passed through traffic to a waiting Amber Knouse, who controlled the ball and beat Southern goalie Abbey Herr to tie the game at one.
After a series of close calls in a game in which Southern outshot East Juniata, 25-7, Southern broke a scoreless tie with 14:33 left in a game seemingly destined for extra time between two talented teams.
Madelyn Stabinski sent a cross on the ground to the right post for a close play as Alyssa Stavinski and Hunter approached the ball at the same moment. As Hunter slid for the ball, Stavinski deflected the ball to the other post and Christina Podpora finished her shot with the ball in the back of the open net.
While the goal was the first of the game, both teams had chances early to pull ahead in a scoreless first half. With 12 minutes left in the first period, a corner nearly resulted in a Southern goal as a header was traveling to the near post before an East Juniata defender and Hunter combined to keep the ball away from the crease. Knouse also had a chance early for East Juniata off of a pass from Goodling but the ball sailed over the crossbar, although Knouse and Goodling found their connection in the second half.
Stine added that he told his players at halftime that the win was theirs for the taking and his team responded with two goals late.