Pittsburgh, Pa. – The Nittany Lions surrendered three early penalty kicks and a first half hat trick to Penn State Beaver's Julius Illiano in the semi-final round of the Penn State University Athletic Conference Soccer Championships at Highmark Stadium on Thursday leading to a 5-2 loss at the hands of Penn State Beaver. As in their previous match on September 20, Hazleton gave their western rivals a good fight in the first half of action but Beaver's aggressive attack proved too much for the Lions to overcome.
Six minutes into play Penn State Beaver received the benefit of a controversial foul ruled inside the 18 box resulting in a penalty kick goal for Julius Illiano and an early 1-0 lead over Hazleton. The Nittany Lions responded several minutes later when Ben Pasukinis (Benton, Pa.) played a beautiful ball on a free kick into the box where Joe Torres (Garden City, NY) was waiting and able to head the ball past the goalkeeper and tie the game at one apiece. Illiano and Penn State Beaver would retake the lead just moments after the ensuing kickoff when the Lions committed their second foul in the box resulting in a penalty kick goal for their opponent. With 20 minutes remaining in the first half, the string of fouls continued, though this time Hazleton became the benefactor when Kyle Venditti (Berwick, Pa.) was taken out in the box and scored the subsequent penalty shot to square the match at 2-2. Once again the Hazleton momentum was short-lived as the oppositions' attackers penetrated the Hazleton defense leading to contact in the penalty area and once again, Beaver's Illiano made the Lions pay, putting the home team up at the half by a score of 3-2.
Despite a turbulent and physical first half of action, the Nittany Lions trailed by just one goal, but Hazleton would fail to match the intensity of the Beaver offense and complete the comeback. Marcus Smith took over the game in the second half for Penn State Beaver when he found Lamont Wright crashing the Hazleton net and scored to extend the Beaver advantage to 4-2 in the 60th minute. Ten minutes later, Smith would go on to seal the Lions fate as he picked up a loose ball in front of the Hazleton goal, beating the Hazleton keeper and adding the final insurance score to send his squad to the conference championship.
Next up: The loss in the semi-finals bring the Lions season to a close. Despite the playoff loss, Hazleton excelled in nearly every match, leading to an outstanding 11-5 record in 2015. Check out psuhazletonsports.com for next week's soccer wrap-up show and all of the offseason updates for men's soccer in 2016.