Short-handed defense helps in shut out
Northwestern head coach Nate Hunsicker had reason to be concerned entering what was the fourth game his team would play against Salisbury this season.
Magnifying those concerns was the fact that this one was for the District 11 Class AA championship and a berth in the PIAA State Tournament.
The Tigers, now 22-1 on the year, suffered their lone loss to the Falcons during the regular season.
And with Colonial League first-team defender Jonathan Blaine on the bench in street clothes, Hunsicker had to make some adjustments to make sure the Falcons didn’t pepper Tiger goalie Kyle Bellhorn with shots.
It all worked out perfectly for Hunsicker and the Tigers as they shut out Salisbury, 2-0, for their first district championship since 2004 — the year after Hunsicker graduated from Northwestern.
Blaine, who pulled a groin muscle two weeks ago, pumped up his team with encouragement on the sideline.
“I’ve been kind of fighting it,” said Blaine proudly wearing his gold medal. “It was hard not to play tonight, but all I wanted to do was rest. The team had my back, they played great and I’ll be back for the first round of states on Tuesday.”
To take Blaine’s place, the Tigers’ outside backer Tommy Creighton slid into the middle and freshman Caleb Danner started. Keegan Coalfield and Dominic Mertz also stood out defensively.
“The same thing happened when I left the game Tuesday night,” Blaine said. “The whole team stepped up and played great.”
Being the fourth meeting, both teams knew what the other one wanted to do. So there were no surprises.
“I have to tip my hat to our back line,” said Hunsicker. “Johnny Blaine, going down right before the championship was obviously a big loss.
“We had Caleb Danner step in. He played great. We kind of had to do some shifting on the back line. Unfortunately Caleb got ill and couldn’t go in the second half. So we had to do a little more shifting and moved Andrew Goodoff back there to shore up things defensively. They all did well.”
Hunsicker, whose Tigers won a league and district title in the same season for the first time in program history, said he couldn’t be prouder of his team’s accomplishments this year.
“That was two goals that we set for ourselves in the beginning of the season,” he quipped. “We knew they were very attainable, but we knew they wouldn’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination.”
One game at a time was the Tigers’ motto all year.
“Winning leagues actually set the tone for our three district wins,” Hunsicker added. “We played three tough opponents so I can honestly say I think we earned it.”
Goalie Kyle Bellhorn had another outstanding contest to add to his resume as he stopped all seven of the shots the Falcons took.