Loyalsock girls fall to EJ in District 4 soccer opener

BLOOMSBURG?- Loyalsock’s players gathered around head coach Ben Comfort just outside the gate at Blue Jay Stadium and listened to their coach deliver a postgame talk that wasn’t supposed to come so soon. The goodbyes had never been necessary at this stage of the season for a senior class that will go down as one of the best to wear the maroon and white.

For the first time in their careers on Tuesday night, the senior class of the Loyalsock girls soccer team lost a game in districts. The previous three seasons ended with them holding a shiny plaque and with their season continuing in the state playoffs.

Those memories, though, were hard to hold onto to after the eighth-seeded Lancers fell to No. 9 seed East Juanita, 1-0, for the second time this season. This defeat, however, in the District 4 Class A playoffs ended a remarkable run of Loyalsock success.

“They’re upset now, but I told them when they go back and look at things there is plenty of girls that would die to be where they’re at,” Comfort said. “I couldn’t be any more prouder of them and they’ve been a heck of a class.”

The Tigers (11-7) struck for the game’s only goal in the 28th minute. Amber Knouse slipped a pass to McKayla Goodling in the box and the senior struck a solid right-footed shot past Loyalsock freshman keeper Lauren Rude, who was forced into goalkeeping this year after the Lancers lost their starting goalie after the fourth game due to an ACL tear.

Over the next 52 minutes, the Lancers (10-7-2) had several opportunities to tie the game but scoring has been a challenge all season for Loyalsock despite its winning record and it proved to be on Tuesday night.

Loyalsock dominated the final five minutes of the first half, keeping the Tigers pressed in their defensive zone but the Lancers could never find that final touch to tie the game.

The three-time defending district champs kept the flip switched in the second half and earned a pair of free kicks just on the outside edge of the penalty box. Ally Kennedy drove the second attempt in the goal box with 6 minutes remaining and the ball reached the turf and a scramble ensued before it was deflected out. A corner directly followed but again the Lancers couldn’t convert off a set piece.

Perhaps Loyalsock’s best scoring opportunity, though, came 20 minutes earlier when freshman Myriah Saar broke behind the defense. East Juniata keeper Lydia Hunter stepped off her line and challenged Saar and her shot went wide of the frame.

“She did nothing wrong,” Comfort said. “She tried to go to the far post, but the goalie took away her angle and it just didn’t go. She is a freshman and she is young and I guarantee you that over the next three years she’s putting those balls in the back of the net.”

Loyalsock’s final opportunity came off the foot of senior Allie Pagana. She drove a right-footed shot from a few yards inside the box, but Hunter again had good position and swallowed the ball in her arms.

EJ – McKayla Goodling (Amber Knouse), 27:05.

Shots on goal: EJ – 5, L – 7. Corners: EJ – 3, L – 3. Saves: East Juniata (Lydia Hunter 7), Loyalsock (Lauren Rude 4).

Records: East Juniata 11-7, Loyalsock 10-7-2. Next: EJ?vs. Southern Columbia, TBA