Playoff chase nears finish line; Plum faces Gateway
Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Fox Chapel already have clinched WPIAL Quad-A boys soccer playoff spots from Section 3-AAA, but the third spot still was up for grabs entering this week, and Plum was right in the thick of things.
“The guys have been really positive about the opportunity to make the playoffs,” Plum head coach Mike Baleno said. “The returning guys knew what it was like to battle for a playoff spot from last year.”
The Mustangs began section play this week at 4-3-2 overall and were hoping to shake off a 4-0 loss against Fox Chapel and a 1-1 tie against Woodland Hills.
Plum was scheduled to host Penn Hills on Tuesday, and the match was to conclude past the deadline for this week's edition.
Another section game against the Indians is set for Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on the new turf field at Linton Middle School.
Gateway stands in between the two Penn Hills matchups, and the Mustangs and Gators do battle Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Gateway's Antimarino Stadium.
The Gators started the week 3-6 in section play and stayed alive in the playoff race with a 5-1 victory over Allderdice last Thursday.
Gateway was slated to host Fox Chapel on Tuesday and play at Penn Hills on Wednesday in advance of the game against Plum.
“Gateway has continually improved throughout the year,” Baleno said.
“They just got a big win against Allderdice. They needed that. It's going to be a big game and an important one for the playoffs for both of us. It should be a good battle, just like the first game.”
The first meeting between Gateway and Plum at Mustangs Stadium on Sept. 22 went into double overtime.
The Gators led 2-1 at halftime, but a goal by senior defender Bryan Parker in the waning minutes of regulation tied the game.
Midway through the second overtime, Plum junior defender Stephen Hemmerle netted the game-winner.
Parker suffered a concussion in the game against Gateway and hasn't returned to the lineup.
Senior R.J. Geibel went down with a broken collar bone in a loss to Central Catholic on Sept. 25 and isn't expected to return this season.
Junior defender Corey Williams, Baleno said, is just getting back into the lineup after missing a couple of games because of illness.
“We moved some guys around and moved some new guys into spots,” Baleno said. “We lost a little bit of our continuity for a few games. We played well, but we just struggled a little bit to get some wins on the board.”
Plum snapped a three-game winless skid with a 7-0 nonsection victory against McKeesport on Saturday.
Senior forward Shane Rings scored a hat trick, while junior Austin Baer, sophomores Michael McGuire and Ryan Kieffer and freshman Ryan Smith added goals.
The three goals gave Rings a team-best nine for the season.
“That game reassured the guys that they can score goals and play good soccer,” Baleno said. “It helped us refocus and get our style back. We got some good goals against McKeesport, and that will help us moving forward.”
A big reason for the success this season, Baleno said, has been the leadership of the seniors, and that group of nine — Rings, Geibel, Parker, Dan Adamczyk, Matt Baleno, Colin Smith, Ricky Wittman, Zach Linderman and Dan Reid — were honored before a game with Franklin Regional on Oct. 1.
“Our seniors are a good core group,” coach Baleno said. “They are a group we will definitely miss next year. We have a lot of silent leaders who lead by example, on and off the field. We don't have many rah-rah guys.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.