It was apparent from the start of Tuesday’s state soccer semifinal that J.R. Masterman was intent on making it a one-goal game against a powerful and balanced Camp Hill squad.
The Lions’ Jake Coniglio foiled that plan in the 21st minute. Then he and his Camp Hill mates spent the next eight-plus minutes wrecking any other strategy the Blue Dragons may have had up their sleeve.
Coniglio netted a first-half hat trick to spearhead a Camp Hill blitz, as the District 3 champion Lions (23-1) tallied four goals in a span of 8:41 to race to a 6-0 victory over District 12 champion Masterman in a PIAA Class 1A semifinal game at Hamburg High School.
“That first goal is always important in soccer,” Camp Hill coach Justin Sheaffer said. “Last year [in the state semifinals], Kutztown had a really organized team and they scored on us early, and then it was tough to break them down. Everything just gets a little tighter, spaces get a little smaller, they get a little more confident. Confidence is huge.”
The victory advances the defending state champs to the PIAA title game for the second straight season. They’ll take on District 7 champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in Saturday’s championship game at 1:30 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium, part of a title game doubleheader with their Camp Hill girls counterparts, who beat East Juniata 3-2 earlier Tuesday.
“We knew that last season didn’t matter,” Coniglio said. “It was a completely different season with new players stepping up. We knew that we needed to come out every game and play hard and do anything to win.”
There was little drama to Tuesday’s proceedings, in contrast to the Lions’ state playoff run of a year ago.
Masterman’s conservative approach worked well through the game’s first 20 minutes, with Camp Hill controlling play but rarely able to bring things together in the final third. Despite the unevenness of play, each team had one shot on goal through that span.
The Lions changed all that in the 21st minute.
Midfielder Quinn Pickering set it up with an entry on a corner. After the ball was deflected in the box, Coniglio was waiting on the doorstep to bang home the shot and give Camp Hill a lead that would allow the Lions to dictate pace and play.
Coniglio’s goal also opened the floodgates.
He struck again 3:35 later, this time getting a beautiful feed from Michael Stringent down the right-side seam. The senior then handed out a helper, setting up Myles Klapkowski for the Lions’ third goal in a span of 6:13.
Another Camp Hill goal came less than three minutes later, with Dylan Mayanja finding the net to bring the Lions’ lead to 4-0.
“Once you get enough opportunities, eventually you’re going to get one,” Coniglio said. “Then once you get one, it just snowballs.”
With the outcome all but decided, Coniglio added one more highlight with just five seconds to go before the break, completing his hat trick to push Camp Hill to a 5-0 halftime lead. With the big advantage in hand, the Lions were able to pull back on the offensive throttle in the second half and turn their thoughts to their return to Hershey.
“Every year you graduate players and it’s a new group of guys,” Sheaffer said. “You have to play a little differently. Our guys embraced that, and I’m proud of them for getting back. It’s not easy to get there. To be playing this late in the season a lot of things need to happen.”