---- — By Jeff Fishbein
For The Daily Item
COCOLAMUS -- Nicole Mironenko didn't score any goals Thursday.
But the ones she kept East Juniata from scoring were huge.
The Mifflinburg goalie stood on her head for her teammates in the first round of the District 4 Class AA field hockey tournament, which is why the Wildcats are moving on.
A Cassandra Lewis goal with 16 seconds left on the overtime clock meant a 2-1 victory in the battle between Heartland Conference and Tri-Valley League runners-up.
Mifflinburg (15-4) will face Selinsgrove (18-1) in a semifinal Tuesday at Bucknell.
When East Juniata (13-5-1) forced an overtime period against Mifflinburg it seemed like the Tigers were on the road to a first-round win against the Heartland Conference's No. 2 team.
When the Tigers drew four penalty corners in a span of three minutes to start the seven-on-seven, sudden victory period -- a similar scenario to the one that created the tie in the first place -- it looked like it was lights out for the Wildcats.
Thanks to Mironenko, that wasn't the case. The Wildcats' goalie turned away a brutal attack in those first few minutes, then got to watch from the other end of the field as one of her teammates found a miracle in
"She is one of the big reasons we have so much motivation out there. She's just been outstanding all season long," Mifflinburg coach Jayme Longacre said of her keeper.
And the goal?
"It looked like it was in and then it wasn't. Hearing that bang is one of the best sounds in the world," Longacre said. "I think I didn't breathe for quite awhile there."
It didn't seem that's how it would end 15 minutes earler. The Tigers played a controlled -- and controlling -- game, deliberately attacking the ball and dominating possession.
"That's the key to overtime, is possession," East Juniata coach Billie Haines said. "When we did get the ball we sent it up the field slowly as a team rather than hitting it up the field and chasing it. We told them
to move it together.
"We possessed well. We possessed the ball and had lots of opportunities."
Opportunity had been East Juniata's mantra since the early minutes of regulation. Mifflinburg was confident and quick to the ball, but the Tigers were able to get in front of plays often.
"We came to play today," Haines said. "We moved to the ball. They played well together. They were confident - they wanted to win."
Opportunities? Yes. Goals? Well, Mifflinburg was first to register in that department.
In the second minute of the second half, the Wildcats' Paige Ruhl was on the spot when a hard cross went off the pads of Lydia Strawser, and Ruhl converted the second chance from the far post side.
Both teams fought through traffic all day as they created a small field for themselves.
"Spreading out the field was one thing we were trying a lot of the game but we seemed to be playing in the middle," Longacre said. "I think both teams showed that aggression today and both teams really wanted it."
It took 20 minutes after the first goal until East Juniata had another really good chance, and it took a few to get the ball past Mironenko.
She held off a scrum in the circle then avoided goals on three corners in less than a minute.
But with a perfectly played far-side cross at the 7:00 mark, Lydia Koser sent the ball to Serina Spancake, who made it a tie game.
In the end, though, the Tigers were the ones who faced the October surprise.