Plum rallies past Gateway in overtime
The Plum varsity boys soccer team finished with four ties last year, and the Mustangs played to a 1-1 tie in a Section 3-AAA game at Allderdice earlier this season.
So when Saturday's section contest with rival Gateway went into overtime — sparked by a goal from senior Bryan Parker with less than two minutes in regulation — the Mustangs players, head coach Mike Baleno said, weren't leaving their home field without a victory.
And with 5:29 to play in the second overtime, junior defender Stephen Hemmerle gave his teammates and the Plum faithful the lift they were looking for.
Hemmerle's goal was his first of the season, and it gave the Mustangs a 3-2 victory and put them at 3-1-1 in a challenging section race.
“It goes back to last year,” Plum head coach Mike Baleno said.
“When we got that tying goal, we thought we could win the game and were very hungry. All it took was a glimmer of hope. In a big game like that, it sometimes comes down to which way the ball bounces. The tying goal really gave them life. You go to overtime and it's basically a 0-0 game. We were in that position (overtime) last year a number of times. The guys knew that it was their game to win.”
The game-winner came off a corner kick from senior forward Matt Baleno and capped a Plum rally from a 2-1 halftime deficit.
“I told the guys in the locker room after the game, that I don't think we win that game without (Stephen),” coach Baleno said.
“We pushed him into the midfield the last 10 minutes (of regulation), and he gave us a spark. He has really stepped up big this season. He was our most valuable player (against Gateway).”
As the final minutes of regulation ticked away, Plum pushed up and created several scoring chances. A throw-in from Matt Baleno set up Parker's game-tying tally past Gateway senior keeper Nate Kleya.
“We weren't in panic mode, but we obviously needed a goal,” coach Baleno said.
“We just wanted to push all the guys forward and put a lot of pressure on their defense and try to make something happen. We pushed a third forward up and an extra guy in the midfield. We just tried to get the ball down deep as much as we could, and we ended up with a goal out of it.”
Plum led 1-0 on senior forward Shane Rings' team-leading fifth goal of the season. He scored at the 26:03 mark of the first half.
Gateway answered less than three minutes later, and then struck to take the lead 19 seconds before the break.
“We expected Gateway to give us a battle,” coach Baleno said. “They always do. They are a very physical team, and they go at you hard. We had to match that intensity.
“I thought we played well in the first 25 or so minutes, and then our play dropped off, and Gateway picked up some momentum. It came down to us battling back and holding off their momentum.”
Rings leads the team in scoring, but coach Baleno said he likes the way the team is stepping up as a whole.
Junior Dylan Malazich and senior Ricky Wittman each tallied their first goals of the season and freshman Ryan Smith recorded his second score in last week's 4-0 whitewash of Woodland Hills.
“If you look at the number of guys that have scored goals for us this year; I think we have six or seven guys scoring goals,” coach Baleno said.
“That says a lot about our team. We don't rely on just one or two guys to carry us. We need a team effort — offensively and defensively — each game. The theme of the year for us is guys stepping up at the right times.”
Plum tried to keep things going Tuesday, as it faced Pittsburgh Central Catholic in a rematch of a 2-1 Mustangs victory on Sept. 8.
The rematch was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.
Plum also will have a chance to put one in the win column against Allderdice on Thursday when the teams meet at 7:30 p.m. at Mustangs Stadium.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at email@example.com.