Upper St. Clair too much for Plum boys in first round
The start of Monday's WPIAL Class AAA first-round boys soccer playoff game between Plum and Upper St. Clair was delayed by about a half hour because the game before it at Upper St. Clair went to overtime.
In a Class A first-round contest, Winchester Thurston upset two-time defending WPIAL champion Seton-LaSalle, 1-0. Winchester Thurston was the No. 10 seed.
The Mustangs came into their game also looking for an upset. They were the No. 15 seed, and Upper St. Clair was the second seed.
However, a second straight playoff upset wasn't in the cards, as the Panthers scored three times in the first half and added a second-half tally to eliminate Plum, 4-0.
“There's no doubt that Upper St. Clair is the best team I've seen in six years of coaching high school soccer,” Plum head coach Mike Baleno said.
“They move the ball fluidly. They're big, strong and fast. They deserved to win today. They played well, and I expect them to go far this year.”
Plum, which finished third in Section 3-AAA this season behind Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Fox Chapel, closed out its season at 9-5-3 overall.
Upper St. Clair upped its record to 16-1-1 overall.
The runner-up to Section 5 champion and No. 1 seed Peters Township recorded its 12th shutout of the season.
The Panthers head into their quarterfinal-round game Thursday having allowed only nine goals in 18 games.
Sophomore John Caffas again was in net for Plum in place of senior keeper Dan Adamczyk, who also missed the final couple of games of the regular season with an injury.
“John, as a sophomore, came in and stepped up big for us,” coach Baleno said.
“We asked him to do a huge thing today, which is step up in his first playoff game in his life and the fourth or fifth varsity game in his career against one of the best teams in the WPIAL. He did all right. It's tough to put a guy in that situation, not knowing what to expect.”
Upper St. Clair got on the board just six minutes into the game, as junior midfielder Troy Kiernan headed the ball in off a throw-in by sophomore midfielder Garrett Blake.
Kiernan's header hit the post and deflected in.
Junior forward Joel Hart scored twice for USC in the first half.
Plum's best scoring chance of the game came in the first half, as a throw-in from senior Matt Baleno was picked up by fellow senior Shane Rings, who shot the ball through traffic.
The ball came close to crossing the goal line, but Panthers senior goalie Joe Conlon was there for the last-second save.
Coach Baleno said he like the way his team kept battling in the second half despite the deficit.
“Defensively, we needed to play a higher line,” he said.
“We kept dropping back because they were so good coming at us. We told our back four to play that higher line, and we needed our midfield to not get split so much.
“USC played three guys in the middle and we played two guys in the middle so it's hard to adjust to that sometimes. We told them that they have to change their shape a little bit and pressure their guys with the ball. We did that. They got one goal in the second half, which was on a long throw.”
Senior R.J. Geibel, who suffered a broken collar bone during the regular season, was in the lineup Monday against USC.
Coach Baleno said he was happy with the way his team navigated through a challenging scheduled to make it back to the playoffs.
Geibel; Baleno; Rings; Adamczyk; and fellow seniors Bryan Parker, Colin Smith, Ricky Wittman, Dan Reid and Zach Linderman will say goodbye after two straight playoff seasons.
“I am so proud of these guys,” he said.
“Before the season started, these guys, especially the seniors, said they were going to make the playoffs. It was their goal. We knew we had a shot. We beat some good teams and overcame some tough odds. This is a good group of guys, and it's been a fun year.”
The wins included handing Central Catholic its lone section defeat, 2-1, on Sept. 8
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.