Avonworth edges GCC in penalty kicks to win 1st WPIAL boys soccer championship
A soccer match can turn on a dime, and for Greensburg Central Catholic it nearly did.
With 22 seconds remaining in regulation and a collision in the goalkeeper box sending Avonworth goalkeeper to the ground injured, Centurions junior midfielder Nathan Ward buried the game-tying goal to send the match into overtime.
With the Antelopes starting goalkeeper in pain and holding his right side, if Avonworth was going to win its first soccer title in school history, the Antelopes were going to have to ride the backup keeper the rest of the way.
Junior Luke Wagner stepped between the pipes and delivered.
With the score tied at 2-2 after two overtime periods and both teams burying penalty kicks, Wagner finally guessed right when the ball left the foot of the Centurions Ethan Boyle to get the championship stop as top-seeded Avonworth downed No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic 6-5 on penalty kicks to claim its first WPIAL Class A boys soccer title Thursday night at Highmark Stadium.
“I knew that I had to make that save,” Wagner said. “Obviously, I was frustrated guessing wrong a couple of times. It was tough, and I knew that I had to make that save and get my hand there at the right time and push it away for the win.”
Avonworth (20-0-1) advanced to the PIAA Class A tournament and will face District 6 champ West Shamokin. Greensburg Central Catholic (17-2) will face District 10 champion Iroquois. Both games will be Tuesday at sites and times to be determined.
“I think we got out played,” Avonworth coach Tom Angell said. “We were lucky, and our goalies just came up huge all night. I think the difference in the game was our goalkeepers.”
The Avonworth attack tested Centurions junior keeper Patrick Brewer early. Senior Samuel Guzzo threaded the needle through some traffic from about 10 yards out to give the Lopes an early 1-0 lead with 24 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the the first half.
“We had a game plan of trying to get out (with a lead) first on their team, but for some reason our guys like to come from behind,” GCC coach Tyler Solis said. “I think the guys just do so well under adversity. When the pressure and everything gets put on them, they really show what they’re made of.”
Going against an Avonworth team that had given up just seven goals all season, Greensburg Central Catholic had few opportunities on offense during the first half.
Things got worse for the Centurions when Boyle connected on a header just outside the goalkeeper box and knocked it in his own goal to give the Lopes a 2-0 lead with 10:21 on the first-half clock.
The way the game was playing out, it played right into the hands of the defensive-minded Lopes.
Ward cut the lead to 2-1 about six minutes into the second half when he beat the Lopes starting keeper, Timothy Stewart. The goal re-energized the Centurions. Stewart finished with 11 saves before leaving the game.
“The team that was defensive got the early lead, and you’re just going to see us go for 70 minutes,” Solis said.
The Centurions’ offense began to open up as the second half moved forward. Stewart came out of the box and intercepted a Sean Gargan shot out of the air. Ricco Cicarelli had a golden opportunity from near point-blank range, but the ball bounced under his foot and to a Lopes defender.
The Greensburg Central Catholic attack brought heavy pressure in the final minute of regulation leading to Ward’s tying goal.
“I couldn’t ask anything more from them to get those two goals back and fight through overtime,” Solis said. “If (regulation) is 5 seconds longer, it might go a different way.”