SOMERSET — After losing by a goal in the District IX Class A Championship Game last Thursday to Northern Potter, the Brookville Raiders had a new attitude when it came to the PIAA state playoffs: Have fun.
The Raiders entered the first round of the state tournament Tuesday in Somerset with a laid back feel, and the notion that playing a loose game with zero pressure would be the best approach. That mindset nearly paid off, as the Raiders kept pace with North Star before surrendering a second-half goal, ending Brookville's season with a 1-0 loss to the Cougars.
"We talked about it, and the last few practices were nothing but fun. We came in with nothing to lose but a soccer game," Brookville head coach Dan Smith said. "We were going to roll in there, play loose, enjoy the time together and give it a whirl."
Brookville did more than just show up against the District V champs and last year's state runners-up, as the Raiders played with intensity and heart throughout the night. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the pressure of North Star started to make its impression late in the game, leading to a corner kick, which ultimately led to an own goal by AJ Moore with 19:44 left in the game that made the difference.
After working for the corner, North Star lined a low kick to the near side of the net, where Moore went to clear the ball. A simple miss-hit turned into a Cougar lead, and with a tight North Star defense, that lead proved to be too much.
"It was a deflection off our defenseman. Of course, you don't want that one to happen, but I can take that instead of a missed trap that allows someone to go and hit it," Smith said. "Those things happen, and there's not much you can do about that. We had our chances on a couple of close ones, as well."
With North Star coming out of the gate with better ball control and more possession, the Cougars were unable to find a quick score, giving the Raiders confidence as the game wore on.
The Raiders made some noise of their own in the first half, with two good opportunities on headers that just missed the back of the net.
Both teams failed on their single corner kicks in the first half, and North Star had a slight shot advantage at 5-4.
But for Brookville, the game was still scoreless, and that had the Raiders feeling pretty good by the break.
"We were encouraged," Smith said. "That's a nice, strong team out there, but it's not like we had to hunker down and try to hold them off. At halftime, we were extremely encouraged. A 1-0 score tells the story there. That one could go either way."
The Raiders started the second half where they finished the first, which was with strong ball movement and good chances to score.
North Star's first big shot at a goal came with 31:59 left in the scoreless game. After a sloppy exchange near midfield, the Cougars were on the attack when Brookville keeper Dan Ion — who made multiple key saves throughout the night — came up big with a stop, keeping the game tied at zero.
"Dan's come on and has done everything you can ask for," Smith said. "I thought he had the sharper game of the two keepers. If their keeper had anything close, their defense made up for it."
Ion finished with eight saves in game, with at least half of those being decent scoring opportunities for North Star.
"I think we played a good game against a good team," Smith said. "I have no real complaints. Maybe we had a couple missed opportunities, but that happens every night."
Entering the District IX playoffs as the No. 7 seed, it was unclear just how far the Raiders could go in 2010. Brookville proved to be a scrappy team all year, especially in the postseason, where the Raiders outworked their opponents for two overtime wins to start the playoff season.
That perpetual attitude of leaving every last inch of effort on the field has become a defining quality for the Raiders over the years, and with this current group of players that have played together since the years of developmental soccer, it was no secret that Brookville came to play every single night.
For Smith, those characteristics can be directly attributed to the late assistant coach Rob Connor, who passed away midway though the 2009 season. It was what Connor was able to do for such a long time that allows Smith to go out of his way to recognize the work that Connor did.
"We share our success with all of the time Rob Connor spent with the boys coming up through," Smith said. "Rob had this group all the way up through the development, and there was a lot of good stuff that he left us with. After last season, we continue to carry him with us, and he's a big reason why we played a 1-0 game in a state game."