Avonworth edges Springdale in WPIAL semifinal boys soccer showdown
After two close, defensive battles during the regular season, section rivals Avonworth and Springdale expected a similar outcome as they met Monday in the WPIAL Class A semifinals at Mars High School.
That’s exactly how it played out.
Senior Sam Guzzo headed in a crossing pass from fellow senior Jason Novosel with 19 minutes left in the second half to give the top-seeded Antelopes the lead.
The Avonworth defense made it stand up in a 1-0 triumph that denied Springdale a spot in the championship game for the second year in a row.
“That was a beautiful play, and the combination of passes its takes to set that up; three or four guys made great passes,” Avonworth coach Tom Angell said. “When you are playing against a goalie like Mike Zolnierczyk, he’s so aggressive and solid, you have to keep the balls away from him. The cross was intentionally pulled out a little bit. Sammy was right where he needed to be. It still was almost saved. It barely made it in.”
Guzzo was all smiles after the match.
“Jason played a perfect ball to my head, and I scored on a super good goalie,” Guzzo said. “It was a nice header, but (Zolnierczyk) almost saved it.”
The Antelopes (19-0-1) advance to Highmark Stadium for Friday’s championship game where they will face No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic, a 2-1 winner over Seton LaSalle in Monday’s other semifinal.
Avonworth will play for a WPIAL championship for the first time since 2015 when it finished as runner-up to Seton LaSalle. The Antelopes won only four games in 2016 and lost in the WPIAL first round last year.
“Hat’s off to Springdale,” Angell said. “Every game against them is a battle. They got better each time we played them. This game tonight could’ve gone either way. There were so many bounces. We just happened to get the play in the box, and we’re moving on.”
Both Avonworth and Springdale knew, regardless of Monday’s outcome, they would prepare to play again later this week. Despite the semifinal setback, the Dynamos (15-3-1) will return to action Thursday to face Seton La Salle in the third-place consolation game at a site and time to be determined.
The top three teams in boys Class A advance to the PIAA tournament, set to begin next Tuesday.
“Yes, everybody is sad and disappointed we didn’t win this game, but right now, we have to move on,” Springdale coach Cesareo Sanchez said. “We want to have two good practices to get ready for Seton LaSalle on Thursday. If we can win Thursday and get into the state playoffs, we could see Avonworth again. We still have a lot to play for.”
Springdale and Avonworth scored a combined one goal in their two Section 3 meetings this season as the teams tied before the Antelopes tallied a 1-0 win in the rematch.
The defenses surrendered just 12 goals overall in 33 combined regular-season games.
Neither team allowed a goal in their respective first-round and quarterfinal playoff victories. The Dynamos punched their ticket to the semifinals by outlasting No. 4 Sewickley Academy in two overtimes last Thursday.
Avonworth finished with four shots on goal, and three were corralled by Zolnierczyk. Springdale had a pair of shots stopped by Antelopes senior keeper Timmy Stewart.
Both squads also had other chances sail wide or shots boomed high of the goal.
Ephraim Duku, the hero of Springdale’s win over Sewickley Academy, and Michael Krason both came close with dangerous chances in the opening minutes of the game.
Zolnierczyk and the Springdale defense turned away a breakaway chance from Avonworth’s Tyler Bryan at the 18:40 mark. Twenty seconds later, Zolnierczyk gobbled up the Antelopes’ first shot on goal of the game.
“We expected that one goal might be enough to decide the game. We’ve been in those type of games all year,” Sanchez said. “The overall play was pretty even. We just didn’t score our chances, and they took advantage of one of their chances. That’s what you expect at this point in the playoffs.”