By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
HERSHEY -- The excitement following their state semifinal win was something the Southern Columbia girls couldn't easily put into words. Even coach Derek Stine had some trouble expressing his excitement and joy.
While this is all new territory for the Tigers, Stine knows his team won't stay on cloud nine for too long after earning a berth to the PIAA Class A state championship.
"They will (come down to Earth). Honestly, you can't say enough about them. They just work so hard. It's great to celebrate with these girls, it really is. They worked so hard," Stine said after Tuesday's 1-0 win over Tulpehocken. "I honestly don't believe we played our best game (Tuesday), and they don't either. (If) we pick it up and play like we did some of our other games ... I'm not going to make a prediction, but I know we're going to be in the game (at Hershey)."
"We'll settle things down and they'll be ready to play (today)," Stine added.
The trip to Hershey today probably will have some of the Southern Columbia players a bit nervous. After all, other than the 11 seniors on the team, no team member had experienced a state tournament appearance. Those 11 seniors were freshmen when they last made the state playoffs in 2010.
The opponent in the way of the Tigers' first soccer state championship is Greensburg Central Catholic, the reigning Class A state champion. The District 7 runners-up defeated Shady Side on Tuesday, 2-0, to earn another trip to Hershey to defend their PIAA state crown. The game is today at 5 p.m.
The Tigers' defense has played solid this entire season -- posting an area-best 13 shutouts on the year, tied with Warrior Run -- and has given up just 16 goals through 24 games.
That defense will have to be solid once again against Greensburg Central Catholic, especially if they hope to contain the extremely talented 1-2 punch of Frannie Crouse and Malea Fabean. The two have combined for more than 300 career goals, and Fabean is committed to play at Pittsburgh. But the Tigers are accustomed to limiting talented offenses -- they held Millville and the talented Bower sisters to just two goals in two games, for example -- and have a talented offense to go along with a stingy defense.
Teanna Shutt, Haley Levan, Jensen Kremser and Avory Pantalone are just a few of defensive players that help control the field and limit shots, while Mackenzie Clark (20 goals, 11 assists) and Bailey Bzdak (24, 13) help control the offense.
"They definitely deserve recognition. They do a great job for us and they have all season," Bzdak said of the defense Tuesday. "It's nice to have them on our team."
Abbey Herr has also stepped up tremendously in goal for the Tigers after Jess Watkins was lost for the year late in the season with a head injury. Since taking over, Herr's posted 22 saves while boasting a 10-2 record. She also has five shutouts.