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Without top scorer, GCC putting even more emphasis on defense

Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review - Greensburg Central Catholic's Devon Nguyen practices Monday, Sept. 10, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review</em></div>Greensburg Central Catholic's Devon Nguyen practices Monday, Sept. 10, 2012.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review - Justin Nolfi (#10) fights off a defender during a practice for the Greensburg Central Catholic boys soccer team.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review</em></div>Justin Nolfi (#10) fights off a defender during a practice for the Greensburg Central Catholic  boys soccer team.
- Vinny Barone, East Allegheny (submitted photo)
Vinny Barone, East Allegheny (submitted photo)

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Players to watch

VINNY BARONE, jr., East Allegheny A 30-goal scorer as a freshman and 28-goal scorer last season, Barone opened the season by notching a hat trick during a 6-1 win over Jeannette last week.

ZACH LESNICK, jr., Riverview Tallied four goals in a Section 2-A win over West Shamokin last week.

BLAISE PFAFF, sr., Baldwin Scored three goals in victories over Albert Gallatin and McKeesport last week.

Games to watch

PINE-RICHLAND at HAMPTON, 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Two of the top teams in the WPIAL will meet in Section 2-AAA. Hampton, which has won the past two WPIAL titles, moved up from Class AA this season.

HOPEWELL at BLACKHAWK, 7:30 p.m. Thursday

The top two teams in Section 4-AA enter this game unbeaten, each at 3-0, with Blackhawk averaging more than five goals per game.

SOUTH ALLEGHENY at GREENBURG C.C. , 7:30 p.m. Thursday

The Gladiators opened the season with four straight wins and could give defending Section 1-A champion Greensburg Central Catholic a run for the title.

Tribune-Review rankings

Class AAA

Team Record Prev.

1. Upper St. Clair 2-0-0 1

2. Peters Township 4-0-0 2

3. Seneca Valley 3-0-0 3

4. Central Catholic 4-1-0 5

5. Pine-Richland 3-0-0 —

Out: Hampton 1-2-0 4

Class AA

1. South Park 1-0-0 1

2. Belle Vernon 4-0-0 2

3. Mars 5-0-0 3

4. Quaker Valley 3-1-0 4

5. West Allegheny 4-0-0 5

Class A

1. Seton-La Salle 3-0-0 1

2. Sewickley Academy 3-0-0 3

3. OLSH 1-1-0 2

4. Greensburg C.C. 0-1-0 4

5. Springdale 3-0-0 5

Note: Records don't include Monday's games

Top high school sports
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

While acknowledging being without its top offensive threat is a “big loss” that has been “very difficult,” the Greensburg Central Catholic boys soccer team strives to transform a temporary hardship into an eventual advantage.

Centurions senior forward Jack Fagan suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason that figures to keep the team's returning leading scorer out at least a couple more weeks.

While missing his primary finisher has caused Greensburg Central Catholic coach Tom Sochacki to tweak the team's scheme, the Centurions have long adhered to a defense-first philosophy. Playing without Fagan has only strengthened that resolve.

The hope is that will pay dividends when the full complement of hands is on deck.

“We've kept everything largely the same just so everybody understands what we're doing,” Sochacki said. “I'm not going to adjust certain things, but with Jack out now, we are changing formations a little bit.

“With an extra guy back deep, we'll see how that works and try that out for a while, and if it works out well, it's going to help even more when Jack's back, sliding him back in up top.”

Fagan, who scored 17 goals in 2011, had an MRI scheduled for today. Sochacki said the team is hoping to have him back in two weeks but has the luxury of waiting. In the meantime, Greensburg Central Catholic will focus on doing what it does best: Shutting down opponent's offenses.

The Centurions allowed only 15 goals in 18 regular-season games last year. Under Sochacki, the team aims for no more than 15 goals against for each full season.

“That's one of our main goals we have this year,” Fagan said. “Scoring a lot of goals in one game is nice, but to give up one or two goals in the same game is pointless.”

Allowing 15 goals or fewer in a season establishes quite a target. An equally lofty goal of Fagan and his teammates is continuing an unbeaten streak for section games that has persevered for almost seven years.

The most recent section game Greensburg Central Catholic did not win was Oct. 15, 2007, a 1-1 tie against East Allegheny. The Centurions' most recent loss in section play was Oct. 6, 2005.

“Our section win streak is one of my more personal goals along with the other seniors,” Fagan said. “We don't want to be that class to give that up.”

Among the Centurions other senior leaders are midfielders Dakota Randolph and Justin Nolfi and sweeper Devon Nguyen.

Other top returnees from last season's WPIAL Class A semifinalists include sophomore forward Adam Tucker, senior midfielder Dan Seamans and junior backer Mychal Pedder. Freshman Riley Slike and junior Frank Fratto have moved into prominent roles in the middle.

“It is always tough to rebound for a better season, but the team is stepping up and coming together to fill the roles of last year's seniors,” Nguyen said.

The standard has been set: Over the past three seasons, Greensburg Central Catholic has taken WPIAL Class A gold and silver.

“We still have a lot of things to work on,” Sochacki said, “but I thought defense would be a strong point — and it has been. Our expectations are pretty high, but I expect a lot out of our group, and they see it the same way.”

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