Jersey Shore boys fall in D4 AAA semis to Athens

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Athens’ Aaron Lane (3) and Jersey Shore’s Mason Zondory (10) struggle for control Monday at Balls Mills in the District 4 Class AAA boys soccer playoffs.

Scattered all around the turf at Balls Mills, Jersey Shore players sat and laid in disbelief. Hunter Bierly sat at midfield with his elbows on his knees while 50 yards away from him, laying face down, was Calvin Lesser.

Other Jersey Shore players had gazed looks on their faces as a season that wasn’t supposed to happen had just ended.

Top-seeded Athens scored the game’s final two goals, including David Scheftic’s game-winner in overtime, as the Bulldogs fell, 3-2, in the District 4 Class AAA semifinal Monday night at Balls Mills.

Athens (16-1-2) moves on to the final to take on Mifflnburg the Bulldogs’ (8-10-1) season ends.

After losing over a dozen players to graduation last year from a team that won 12 games and reached the district semifinals, the Bulldogs weren’t expected to do much. But after progressing through the season and making their way through districts, they came up just short of their first district final berth.

“I thought they looked very tidy. A very good side coming from a small place like Athens. I have no grumbles about the result. If it had been a boxing match, they would’ve won it on points. There’s no doubt that,” said Jersey Shore coach Doug Moore. “I’m just proud of my guys. Hanging in and fighting, giving everything they got. When I came in and took over this year, they graduated 13 seniors last year and so people said to me, ‘Oh, you’ll be lucky if you win a game.’ Here we are having lost in overtime in the playoffs. So that’s a testament to the guts and the character of the lads. Were they a better team on the night? Definitely, there’s no doubt about that. I don’t think we could’ve given them much more. I thought it was a great game as a high school soccer match.”

After not controlling the ball on Athens’ side of the field for the first nine minutes, Jersey Shore finally was able to take control of the ball and quickly do something with it. Late in the 10th minute, Alex Butzler fired a great cross into the 18-yard box where Hunter Bierly, from about 12-yards out, volleyed in a laser of a shot to put the Bulldogs up, 1-0. Athens tied it up about 11 minutes later but Bierly again put the Bulldogs up, this time on a free kick from about 35 yards out in the 37th minute.

“He’s very young and he’s got two more years so we have some hope for the future and we have some kids coming through and in the middle school,” Moore said of Bierly.

Despite minimal possession and ball control, Jersey Shore still held a lead, notably due to a bend but don’t break defense and Lesser. Though Athens finished with 36 shots, not too many of them were great opportunities and the ones that were great opportunities, Lesser saved. The senior finished with 14 saves, including an impressive diving save late in the first half.

“For a baseball pitcher, he’s not a bad goalkeeper is he,” Moore said. “I think he’s going to (Lock Haven) University to pitch. I know several big universities are after him to pitch. I thought that save late on was quite exceptional. He’s been a real team leader for us.”

Athens constant attacking and short, quick passing style eventually broke through. The Wildcats scored another goal in the 53rd minute and added the game-winner in the 87th minute when Scheftic scored the game-winner off a defensive misplay about 8-yards in front of the goal.

“That’s been a little bit of a problem for us all year. We lost our leading goal scorer and all that. So we lost people of that caliber and we’ve struggled to replace them,” Moore said. “But that’s high school soccer. You get what comes through the school. You can’t root through the transfer market and buy players. But as a coach, you work hard, you ask them to work hard and I’m very proud of them. I don’t think they could’ve done any better than they did.”

Goals: JS- Hunter Bierly (Alex Butzler), 9:45; Bierly (free kick), 36:33.

Athens- Gavin Stein (Ethan Lane), 21:17; Luke Arnold (Stein), 52:38; David Scheftic (UA), 86:26.

Shots: JS 7, Athens 36. Shots on goal: JS 5, Athens 17. Corners: JS 3, Athens 5. Saves: JS 14 (Calvin Lesser); Athens (Braden Priester 3)

Records: JS (8-10-1); Athens (16-1-2).