Franklin Regional blanks West Allegheny to capture 1st WPIAL boys soccer championship
With a defense like Franklin Regional’s sometimes all it takes is one.
Panthers coach Rand Hudson said he hoped his team was ready for the “brights lights, big city” nature of the finals. With the sparkle of a Pittsburgh skyline as the backdrop, the Panthers gave their coach a definitive answer with a 1-0 victory over West Allegheny Thursday night at Highmark Stadium to capture their first WPIAL boys soccer championship in their first try.
Freshman forward Anthony DiFalco’s goal late in the first half was all the offense the top-seeded Panthers (18-0-1) and their enduring defense needed to take the Class 3A final.
“We had full confidence going into this,” DiFalco said. “We always want to get the first goal ... they’re a great team. The goal: it was a fake shot it with the outside of my foot. It was lucky to go in.”
Players like DiFalco and teams like the Panthers -- special in their own ways -- don’t need luck.
Next, they’ll play their first PIAA boys soccer playoff game in school history.
“It’s a relief and I’m already thinking about what time we’re practicing next when when we play Tuesday,” Hudson said. “This feels really good.”
West Allegheny (19-2), which had won the Class 2A title in 2013 and made four trips to the finals in the last six years, also qualified for the state playoffs. It practically blitzed the Panthers with scoring chances in the second half but never managed the equalizer.
But, like so many times this season, the Panthers were patient and poised with a lead.
Their 14th shutout of the season made the title-clincher that much more fitting as they completed the WPIAL season without a loss and have still only allowed just five goals in 19 games.
“They’re a good team and they definitely put a lot of pressure on you,” West Allegheny coach Kevin Amos said. “I didn’t think it was as much of what they did to shut us down, as it was us not taking advantage of our chances and finishing.”
After he was denied by Indians keeper Braden Wurst on a shot from 15 yards out and had saw his rebound go high, the talented DiFalco struck on his next opportunity.
Panthers senior forward Auston Kranick delivered a delicate touch pass from the far left side to a closing DiFalco on the right, and DiFalco passed up the one-timer, made a stutter-step move -- think crossover dribble in basketball -- and kicked it in past Wurst in the 33rd minute.
“I wanted to go in on the outside but I cut back in,” DiFalco said. “I didn’t even know what was happening at the moment. It was just a great feeling when it went in. It’s so fun to be a part of this right now.”
The 1-0 lead allowed the Panthers to get into their possession game, which was not to West Allegheny’s detriment as the Indians still managed to flourish on the attack.
They came in with 22 goals in the playoffs.
“That was an unbelievable shot and a perfect read by Auston,” Hudson said. “He drew the defenders to him. Anthony made that run. I always tell them don’t hit with the outside of your opposite foot. I’m not telling him anything anymore; he can hit it any way he wants.”
The Indians had their share of scoring chances in the final 40 minutes but the Panthers, like on so many occasions all season, were in position to keep the ball out of the net.
“They’re an awesome team,” Hudson said. “They are really fit and kept coming after us. They’ll do well in states. Who knows if we’ll see them again?”
West Allegheny’s 31-goal scorer, Nathan Dragisich, a Duquesne recruit, nearly tied it in the 68th minute but his blast from about 13 yards out was knocked away by Panthers’ keeper Jeremy Lucas, who extended upward, got two hands on the ball and sent it high and away from trouble.
“I could see down the stretch that our guys were determined and weren’t going to let go of it,” Hudson said. “My heart was in my throat through that whole time.”
Senior Matt Kimmich ran in front of a near-open net and used his head to bonk a dangerous ball away in the box with about 19 minutes to play.
Caleb Miller took a shot on a free kick after it looked like he might dish off to Dragisich, but Lucas made the stop, with some help from Kimmich, who got in the way again.
“We knew coming in we weren’t going to give up many goals in this game,” Kimmich said. “We just had to get that one early from Anthony. Great finish, great build-up. We knew we were going to hold them off. We stayed disciplined on the set pieces.”
Kimmich and a few other players went out of their way to help Lucas, who had six saves.
“It’s hard to keep a clean sheet against a team like that,” DiFalco said. “Our defense was excellent.”