---- — By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
HAMBURG -- For the 11 seniors on Southern Columbia's girls soccer team, this is their last ride together.
Most of them have been playing alongside one another for numerous years, from way back when they were in youth soccer. They're basically a family together on the field.
So coming into this season, those 11 Tigers knew that if they were going to make a run, it was now or never.
It may not have hit them when the season started, but once the district playoffs got underway, the realization began to settle in.
"It all really started to hit us when playoffs started and we won the league title and District 4 title," Southern Columbia senior forward Bailey Bzdak said. "It seems like time's gone so fast since our freshman year and we definitely are seeing that we need to play with everything we have because we won't ever get these moments back."
Before the first game of the year the Tigers wrote some team goals on paper, everything they wanted to accomplish this season:
Avenge losses to the only teams they lost to the past two seasons? Check.
League title? Check.
District 4 banner? Check.
There's only one goal remaining on their wish list: a state championship.
The Tigers (21-1-1) are looking to get one step closer to checking that off their list -- and relishing another moment -- when they face Tulpehocken at Hamburg H.S. tonight at 7 p.m. in the Class A semifinals.
Southern Columbia is in its first PIAA state semifinal game since 2002, and the fourth all-time in program history. The Tigers also advanced in 1999 and 2001.
The Trojans (22-2) may pose a tough problem for the Tigers, as the District 3 champions are averaging just over three goals per game. Senior Kailee Ziegler leads the team with 17 goals and six assists, while sophomore Myriah Troutman has been an added threat with 15 goals and seven assists.
However, while Southern Columbia has 12 shutouts on the year -- second in the Valley -- and an extremely solid defense, the Tigers' offense is just as talented. Bzdak and senior Mackenzie Clark have been an extremely tough 1-2 punch to stop, accounting for a combined 44 goals and 24 assists this year.
The duo scored all three goals in Saturday's quarterfinal win, two from Bzdak.
"In my opinion, our team is very well-balanced when it comes to talent and experience," Bzdak said. "I mean now with our eight starting seniors we are all spread throughout our offense, midfield and defense, and that definitely strengthens our lineup and balances us as a team."
Bzdak and the rest of the Tigers know the pressure's mounting now being in the PIAA state semifinals, but they don't let it get to them.
"There's obviously definitely a lot of pressure but, like we've been doing the entire season, we have been taking it just one game at a time and just enjoying the ride," Bzdak said. "We're staying focused, but having fun with it, too."
And for the numerous Southern Columbia fans that attend each game, they're no doubt enjoying the ride just as much.