The stage has been set for an all-SOL District One AAA semifinal in boys’ soccer. CB East, Souderton, Pennsbury and Abington advanced to Wednesday’s semifinal round. To view action photos of the North Penn/Pennsbury game, please visit the Photo Gallery.
It’s the year of the Suburban One League in boys’ soccer.
The card is completed for Wednesday’s night’s District One AAA semifinals, and it’s an all-SOL event. Eighth-seeded Central Bucks East will take on Continental Conference rival Souderton, the tournament’s 13th seed. In the other half of the bracket, 15th-seeded Pennsbury will face National Conference foe Abington, which is seeded 19th.
If the SOL didn’t get the respect it deserved from the district seeding committee, it certainly has earned it now. Sixth-seeded Neshaminy and seventh-seeded North Penn both remain in the hunt for the fifth and final state playoff berth, and of the final eight teams still alive in the district tournament, six are from the SOL.
#8 CENTRAL BUCKS EAST 2, #1 BAYARD RUSTIN 0
Never bet against Mike Gorni and his Central Bucks East soccer team when the postseason rolls around. Forget the fact that the Patriots were playing the tournament’s top seed in Saturday’s district quarterfinal round. The Patriots, who have not lost since a 2-0 setback to Central Bucks South on Sept. 24, are playing their best soccer of the season.
They proved as much on Saturday when they used a pair of second half goals to defeat the Golden Knights for a win that vaulted the Patriots into the district semifinals and also ensured the squad a coveted berth in the state tournament. This is the sixth straight year that East has advanced to the final four in the district as well as the state tournament.
“It’s a big win and unexpected,” Gorni said. “We’re really proud of them. It took a while to get there. We’re really excited.
The Patriots started the year 1-2 in the league, but since their lost to South, they are 12-0-2.
“We just stayed the course,” Gorni said. “We had to go through some growing pains. We were a little young and inexperienced, and we just had to stay with it and develop our team shape.
“We have a phenomenal attacking player in Ben Marks, and during the progression of the season, we became a team that was not just a supporting cast to him but a complimentary cast, and there’s a big difference in that.”
In Saturday’s showdown, the two teams battled to a scoreless halftime tie.
“In the first half, Rustin was the better team,” Gorni said. “They put a lot of pressure on us. It was a fairly even game all the way through, but they had a little better of it in the first half.”
The Patriots got on the scoreboard in the 52nd minute on a goal by Ben Marks on a restart from about 35 yards out.
“It was just a great goal from a terrific talent,” Gorni said.
With 14 minutes remaining, he Patriots upped their lead to 2-0, thanks to another goal by Marks.
“We got a restart from the wide part almost to the sidelines,” Gorni said. “Ben hit a low, driven shot, and somehow it got through everybody. I think the keeper was screened, and it went by him into the far corner.”
Gorni will be taking on a respected colleague and friend when the Patriots face the Indians in Wednesday’s semifinal contest. The two conference rivals met in last year’s district quarterfinals. The Patriots sent the Indians packing with a 3-0 win.
“The bottom line is – this is a nice time to meet,” Gorni said. “Last year when we met there were only four teams getting through, so you had to get to the final four.
“This year when we’re playing we both know we’ve already qualified for the state tournament, and there’s a little bit less pressure with all of that.”
#19 ABINGTON 2, #6 NESHAMINY 1
The Ghosts didn’t have the kind of season they were hoping to have, compiling an 8-5-1 record and finishing fourth in National Conference play.
None of that matters any more.
The Ghosts have cruised through the district tournament so far, and two days after knocking out third-seeded Central Bucks South, they picked up yet another upset, this time over conference rival Neshaminy.
The Ghosts and the National Conference champion Redskins met twice in the regular season, and the ‘Skins were victorious both times, earning wins of 1-0 and 3-2.
On Saturday, the Redskins faced a different Ghost squad - a healthy Ghost team that has finally found its rhythm and is methodically taking down one higher-seeded team after another.
Saturday’s tough match was physical from the outset. Twelve minutes into the game, Danny Shephard came down the right side off a throw-in and caught the goalkeeper coming across as he roofed the ball to the back post. With the favored ‘Skins staring at a deficit, the game got even more physical.
The rough play resulted in a penalty kick for the Ghosts midway through the first half, and Shephard stepped up to the line and buried the shot, putting the Ghosts on top 2-0.
Neither team connected for the next 55 minutes. As time was winding down, Neshaminy generated some good chances, and it looked like the ‘Skins were going to get on the board late in the second half when they saw one of their quality shots hit the crossbar and land right in front of Ghosts’ keeper Austin Brotman, but the Ghosts cleared the ball out. In the 75th minute, the Redskins barreled down the middle, put a few short passes together and got the ball to sophomore Mike Gulla who finally found the net for Neshaminy.
“We got caught laxadasical and flat,” coach Randy Garber said.
The last five minutes belonged to the Ghosts as they controlled the ball and came away with a win over the Redskins for the first time this season.
Keeper Austin Brotman has been a standout for the Ghosts in the postseason, and Saturday was no exception.
“Austin played extremely well as far as handling pressure and making key saves,” said Garber.
For a team of players that has absolutely no experience in the playoffs, Garber’s squad is doing a good job of figuring it out as they go.
“They are a good team,” Garber said of Neshaminy. “Bottom line is that our kids are peaking at the right time.”
The strength of the Ghosts’ team, according to Garber, is in their four senior captains - Danny Shephard, Chris Tracey, Billy Natter and Kyle Rocks - who are not only excellent soccer players, but good students, role models and leaders. Rocks and Shephard are two valuable weapons on the Ghosts’ attack. Shephard leads the team in scoring with 20 goals. Natter is credited with being the ‘tough guy’ who manages the midfield play while Chris Tracey is the defender that Garber says, “runs the show.”
The Ghosts will face conference rival Pennsbury in a semifinal contest on Wednesday while the Redskins are one of four teams vying for the fifth and final state berth.
#15 PENNSBURY 1, #7 NORTH PENN 0 (4-3 PK’s)
When the Knights’ fifth penalty kick – with the score deadlocked 3-3 - bounced off the crossbar, the door was open for the Falcons to steal the win in Saturday’s quarterfinal contest.
The Falcons seized the moment.
Stephen Tomaszewski stepped to the line for a kick that would determine the Falcons’ fate.
“There’s a lot of pressure, but you don’t really want to think about it – just keep a clear head and be positive,” the Falcons’ senior defender said. “I hit the crossbar on Thursday, and I knew I wasn’t going to go 0-for-2. I knew I had to get revenge.”
Tomaszewski got his revenge, burying his shot and propelling the Falcons into Wednesday’s semifinal while also giving them a berth in the state tournament.
“It’s the best feeling,” Tomaszewski said. “It’s so exciting to finally win something for the team.”
It is the second win in PK’s in as many games for the Falcons, who upended second-seeded Great Valley in Thursday’s second round. The win came after 110 minutes of scoreless soccer that saw the Knights collect 18 shots to just three for the Falcons.
Despite controlling play, the Knights never really seriously threatened.
“I feel like we had the majority of the possession, we had the majority of the pressure on them, but they defended us well and limited our good chances in front of goal,” North Penn coach Paul Duddy said. “Credit to them for that.”
The Falcons have not scored a goal in the last two games, but they haven’t allowed one either, silencing a pair of impressive offenses.
“They probably outplayed us most of the day and kept us out of our rhythm,” Pennsbury coach Tom Stoddart said. “We worked going into the Great Valley game on good defense, moving in and out of positions. It held up the other night, and it held up today.
“(Goalie) Spencer McCullough has been great for us settling in the back. Now we have to figure out how to score a couple of goals and make life a little easier on ourselves.”
The Knights appeared to have the upper hand in PK’s after both Matt Robinson and Alex Evans connected on their shots while Pennsbury’s Sam Uprichard buried his but Brendan Cooper’s shot was turned away by keeper Dave Selverian’s diving save, giving the Knights an early 2-1 lead.
North Penn’s Riley Gaibler found the corner of the net, but Charlie Rushing answered to keep the Falcons within one. After the Knights misfired on their next two shots with one going wide and the other ricocheting off the crossbar, the Falcons took advantage of the opportunity to close it out with Collin Marks and Tomaszewski both hitting their shorts to give the Falcons the 4-3 win.
While the Knights are now one of four teams vying for the fifth and final playoff spot, the Falcons are guaranteed a berth in states.
“This is where we expect this program to be,” Stoddart said. “We have a lot of talent in this program all the way down through the jayvee roster.
“The boys that are playing in college were texting me today. This is where we need to be. We tried not to let the 15 seed bother us, nor did Abington let the 19 seed bother them.
“Our league got completely disrespected, so you feel bad for the Bensalems and you feel bad for the William Tennents that don’t get a chance at this. Obviously, those two teams did a great job of preparing us to be in this spot. We look forward to playing Abington for the third time.”
On the other side of the field, Duddy had a simple message for his players after Saturday’s loss.
“We just told them – it’s not like we’re done and going home for the season,” the Knights’ coach said. “That’s always pretty cruel when that happens. At least we can come back Monday, work hard in practice, get organized and hopefully do better.”
#13 SOUDERTON 4, #5 DOWNINGTOWN WEST 1
The fifth-seeded Whippets had outscored their two opening round opponents by a combined 9-0 count. While it was clear they boasted some serious firepower, they also had U18 U.S. National team keeper Zach Steffen in goal.
Not that any of that fazed the Indians, who went onto the Whippets home turf and laid a serious beating on the tournament’s fifth-seeded squad.
The Indians, who will face conference rival CB East in a semifinal contest on Wednesday, will be making a return trip to the state tournament for the first time since 2009.
“For the seniors, it means everything,” senior captain Jeff Wolf said. “We really dominated today’s game, and we knew coming out that we couldn’t get down a goal early.
“We really put them away physically and mentally in the end, so it worked out well.”
Wolf played a major role in making sure the Whippets would be down for the count, scoring a goal late in the first half to send the Indians into halftime with a 3-1 lead.
“That was one of the best goals we’ve ever scored,” coach Tom Quintois said. “Ryan Molyneaux drove a ball on a restart into the box, and Wolf separated from his defender and headed it into the goal. It was a fantastic goal, and it changed the game.
“Jeff was really good all game in the back. He was composed, and he was smart and made great passes. He’s a kid that, although he’s our center defender, he scores goals for us all the time on restarts because he’s that good.”
Earlier, Wilson Gonzalez scored to give the Indians a 1-0 lead, but five minutes later, the Whippets had an answer when Evan Kerr connected with the equalizer. Wolf’s goal made it a 3-1 game at the intermission.
“Coach Quintois told us we needed to keep the pedal on and just bury them,” Wolf said.
Seven minutes into the second half, freshman Nate Burso beat his defender up top and scored an insurance goal for the 4-1 final.
Despite the Indians’ decisive win, Wolf acknowledged that Steffen is something special.
“He’s a really good goalie,” the Indians’ senior captain said. “We have a lot of respect for him.
“I don’t think anyone on our team has ever played anyone with that kind of skill in the goalkeeper position, but to score four goals on him, we had to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible, play it away from him as much as possible, because he was able to come out and snag everything.
“We really played the right balls at the right time and kept them away and we finished them long and hard. It ended up working out well.”
The Indians were coming off a heart-stopping 4-3 win in penalty kicks over defending district and state champion Conestoga.
“We came into that game a little bit nervous because we had played them in a preseason scrimmage, and their speed up top is just incredible,” Wolf said. “To beat them in PK’s was really rewarding for our seniors and actually the whole team.
“Before the season started, we really wanted to win the league, but we fell short of that. One of our biggest goals was to win districts obviously, and now that we have a chance, we’re just trying to keep it rolling for our team.”
Quintois acknowledged the solid performances of several players.
“Nick Stulb is our left defender, and we had to move him back for our game against Conestoga,” the Indians’ coach said. “He was playing center mid, and now he’s playing left defender, but he doesn’t care. He’s a selfless kid.
“Jordan Rawa played center defender tonight. We have to move him around because of matchups, and they just don’t care. It’s not about them or about statistics. It’s about us winning. That’s all they care about, and that can get lost in all of the other stuff.”
With 10 seniors on his roster, Quintois acknowledged that advancing to states with this squad is special.
“It means a ton,” he said. “These kids are a family. Our goals for the season were to win the league, play as a group, play as a family and get to states.
“We didn’t win the league, but we play as a group, we play as a family, and now we’re in states. We deserve to be there. We’re a team that respects their opponents, we play hard, and we play the right way. At the end of the day, this group of kids earned it, and we’re so proud of them. It’s amazing.”