By Corey J. Corbin
Allied News Sports Columnist
FRANKLIN – Both Mercer and Sewickley Academy soccer teams had their scoring chances in Tuesday night’s PIAA Class A playoff lidlifter.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs (19-2-1), the Panthers (19-1-1) capitalized on their opportunities more often in a 2-1 win at Franklin High School.
“There always has to be a winner and a loser,” Mercer coach Ryan Hoffman said. “Unfortunately tonight, we came out on the losing end. We knew coming in that Sewickley was a good team. They’re the No. 1 team in the WPIAL and No. 3 in the state. Their coach said after the game that we were the first team to go straight at them and make a game of it.
“I told the boys that we were going to get opportunities to score in this game. We just needed to take advantage of a couple of them. Obviously, we didn’t. In the first half, we had eight or nine good chances and we just didn’t put any away. If you don’t work hard enough to score, guess what you don’t win.”
With the loss, the Mustangs must say good-bye to seniors Nathan Breese, Josh Brothers, Will Juergens, Alan Rabold and Alex Schaffer.
“(They had) just phenomenal leadership and commitment,” Hoffman said of his seniors. “They kept this team together during the season. It was top notch. They’re definitely going to be missed by the team and the coaching staff.
“As far as the season goes, it was a phenomenal, phenomenal year for us. We didn’t win the District 10 championship for our team, our school or our community alone. We did it for the whole southern region, because we need to get more respect (from the northern tier of District 10). We have a standard to live up to now. We have a good group coming up. We’ve set a standard for next year’s team to live up to. That’ll be a good way to start next season.”
After several Mercer missed scoring opportunities, Sewickley Academy shocked the Mustangs (19-2-1) by scoring just 7 second lefts before halftime on a JP Bowell goal.
“We had a set (offensive) piece and the ball came bouncing out,” Hoffman said. “We misplayed it. If he hits it back in, they don’t get the breakaway. They had a great counterattack. With their speed, they ended up catching us.
“They have a lot of team speed and they work the ball well. Defensively as 11, the back four and the midfielders busted their butts tonight and worked hard for us. Dubois had the team speed they did, but I thought we adapted well to it.”
Then nearly two minutes into the second half, the Panthers struck again, scoring on an Erik Dietrich goal for a 2-0 cushion.
“Us scoring that first goal with seven seconds to go in the first half was a momentum changer,” Boone said. “It was pretty even (before that) and it gave us a lot of confidence. That second goal gave us a little more breathing room. I told the boys let’s get another one in the first five minutes. We were hoping they were still on the ropes after the first one. That (goal) really shell-shocked them.”
The score stayed 2-0 for nearly 36 minutes until Zack Kroll scored on a penalty kick for the Mercer with 2:42 left in the contest.
“That second goal obviously took some of the wind out of us,” Hoffman said. “I don’t think (the first goal) had an effect on it. The kids were still in good spirits at halftime. (There was) a little mental mistake and (Sewickley Academy) scored. We started slow in the second half. Our outside midfielder was sleeping and let his guy go.
“The boys kept battling. We got it down in the box and things happen when you get in the box. (Kroll’s goal) gave us a little bit of life. If it would’ve happened a little earlier, this might have been a different game today.”
With the win, Sewickley Academy will play WPIAL champion Riverside – who beat District 9 titlist Brockway 3-2 – in the Class A Western Semifinals today.
“This was a big win for us,” Boone said. “They’re a quality team. They were very deserving and deserved to be here tonight. I like their team.
“We try to move the ball around and keep it on the ground. We did a great job of that. We try to teach these guys to possess the ball and move without it. We do a good job of that. We’re a solid team.”
Notes: Hoffman didn’t know the specifics in the immediate aftermath of the loss, but keeper Rabold had to be taken off the field in an ambulance after a reported hip injury. … Sewickley Academy held advantages in shots (12-5) and corner kicks (8-3). … Rabold had 4 saves for Mercer.