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Millville captures PIAA state gold

Millville captures PIAA state gold

By: Justin Beiter | Press Enterprise | November 17, 2018 | Photo courtesy Justin Beiter

HERSHEY — All season long, Millville prided itself on being a second-half team.

On Friday afternoon, that trend continued on the biggest stage and resulted in the Quakers making history.

Goals by Eli Klinger and Griffin Bower sparked a dominant second-half performance that was complemented by solid defense and tremendous goalkeeping. Millville defeated previously unbeaten Avonworth, 2-0, to capture the PIAA Class A state championship, the first in school history.

"That's the biggest thing we've worked on. We're known for being one of the best-conditioned teams around," Bower said. "It all started in preseason. We were constantly out there for two or three hours having open gyms or practices. We just kept going from the preseason, and kept that momentum going."

After a scoreless first half, Millville (22-2) opened the scoring in the third minute of the second half.

Klinger, who narrowly missed on a quality chance earlier, chipped a ball past Antelopes' goalkeeper Tim Stewart from close range, with an assist from Blake Evans.

Much like in their quarterfinal victory over Moravian Academy last Saturday, the Quakers went into the wind during the first half and were more than happy to come out even on the scoreboard.

"I just saw the ball come across the net, and I thought, 'This is my chance to shine,'" Klinger said. "So I just put my body in front of the ball, and I put it in the net. It feels amazing. For a freshman, playing with all of these great seniors in a family like this, it's just amazing."

Avonworth (23-1-1) had plenty of good opportunities to get the equalizer, but the Millville defense and goalkeeper Landon Evans made sure that didn't happen.

The Antelopes got inside the 18-yard box on several occasions, but the Quakers' defense was superb. Attempted centering passes were cleared and corner kicks were knocked out of harm's way as Millville held Avonworth to just three shots.

In four state playoff games, the Quakers allowed just two goals.

"We have three seniors back there," Millville coach Anthony Preston said. "We also have Caleb Temple as a junior who has been paramount for our success when it comes to tracking guys down and finding that long ball on the ground. Collectively, they are a unit, they've worked hard and they've let up very few goals this season. What they were able to do was produce quality soccer for everyone to see."

With Millville having the wind at its back and the Antelopes becoming more desperate by the minute, Bower showed off his all-state skills on a nifty insurance goal with just over 14 minutes left.

He won a one-on-one battle with a defender, shook him off and wired a shot from close range that ended up in the back of the net to give the Quakers an important two-goal lead heading down the stretch.

"I honestly just found a pocket of space, and I'm just so lucky my teammate Cameron (Laubach) found me," Bower said. "I was able to get the ball under control, and I just kept my composure and put it in the bottom corner. I feel amazing right now. It's surreal. It's such a surreal feeling. I can't even put it into words. That goal, I was just instantly filled with emotions when I knew I was getting that chance. I'm just so happy that I was able to convert it. "

Shortly after Bower's score, it looked like Avonworth might finally solve the Millville defense. However, Evans rose to the occasion again.

The freshman goalkeeper made a diving save on a Michael Mucha shot that seemed destined to be a goal. Evans also made a dazzling save in the first half when he robbed Samuel Guzzo on a header from well inside the box.

"Landon continued throughout the season to get better and better," Preston said. "He was taking knocks, he was taking bumps, and he was taking bruises day-in, day-out. The thing is, he knew when game time came, he needed to get focused and single-handedly... had he not made a handful of saves, it would have been a very, very different game. He played well beyond his years today."

Down the stretch, the Millville defense stood tall and did not allow any scoring opportunities. As the final horn sounded, the Quakers bench rushed the field, and several players laid down on the Hersheypark Stadium turf to soak in the moment and let the emotion of their colossal achievement sink in.

"We have one blinking light in the middle of town," Preston said. "It has never been done before, so it's just too difficult to put into words. With Southern girls winning today and Millville boys, I like to say they've completely solidified District 4 as the programs to look to in terms of overall competition. I had a front row seat for it, so I had the best spot in the house."