HEPBURNVILLE — Athens coach Rich Pitts admitted he was out of ideas trying to figure out Mifflinburg’s defense.
Mifflinburg kept Athens’ speed and offense stifled much of Saturday’s game.
So Pitts threw a proverbial Hail Mary.
“We switched to a 3-4-3 alignment and put all of our speed up top,” Pitts said. “And it wound up working.”
Shut out for 70 minutes, Athens senior Rachel Hutchison scored two goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation as top-seeded Athens (15-3) rallied to down Mifflinburg in the District 4 Class 3A championship game, 2-1.
Mifflinburg coach Tedd Keister was emotional after the game, and at times had to pause answering questions. His outgoing senior class, which had qualified for the playoffs each of the last four years, was going home with silver medals and a 12-7-1 record.
“These seniors have worked their tails off,” Keister said. “This was an incredible group of girls. It’s tough to see it end like this (for them). I appreciate all of the hard work they put into it, and they’ve set the bar especially high for this program moving forward.”
Mifflinburg controlled the game for much of the first half. Mifflinburg took Athens speedster Ariana Gambrell out of the equation, and limited the Northern Tier League reps to one first half shot.
Meanwhile, senior Reagan Griffith gave Mifflinburg a 1-0 lead that felt like it would hold. Griffith hit a long shot, from between 30 to 35 yards out, to give Mifflinburg the edge.
“We wanted to hit those long shots on their goalie,” Keister said. “We did exactly what we wanted to do.”
Until Pitts made his decision to switch alignments.
“They (Mifflinburg) did a great job marking who our special players were,” Pitts said. “We’d seen what they were doing defensively before, but they way they did it was unique.”
Pitts switched alignments with 17 minutes left in regulation, and eight minutes later, Gambrell, a Bucknell track and field recruit, sprinted behind Mifflinburg’s defense and found Hutchison, who headed in the equalizer with 9:50 left.
Three minutes later, Hutchison, a St. Bonaventure recruit for soccer, buried the game-winner, propelling Athens to its first District 4 soccer title since 2000.
DISTRICT 4 CLASS 3A FINAL
at Balls Mills Complex
ATHENS 2, MIFFLINBURG 1
M – Reagan Griffith, 32:22.
A – Rachel Hutchison (Arianna Gambrell), 9:50; A – Hutchison, 6:00.
Shots: M, 9-6. Corners: M, 5-4. Saves: Athens 5 (Madisyn Joslyn); Mifflinburg 4 (Delaney Good).