Plum boys soccer team chasing section championship
The members of the Plum boys soccer team met Saturday morning — early — for a light 90-minute workout to bridge the gap between last Thursday's key 2-1 Section 3-AAAA victory at rival Fox Chapel and preparation for Tuesday's section clash with Central Catholic.
The Mustangs, at 8-1 in section play, are right in the mix at the top of the standings and, as coach Anthony Russo describes it, are laser-focused on bringing home the program's first section crown since winning back-to-back titles in 2004 and '05.
“They felt they deserved to win last year,” Russo said. “Because we only graduated three starters and the rest of the guys had that experience and taste (of winning) in their mouths, they felt they could take that next step. They had a nice 2016 season, but they wanted more. They want to make up for it this year. They want to prove they are the best team in the section.”
Last year, the Mustangs finished 8-2-2 in Section 3, finishing second behind unbeaten Allderdice. Their excitement when the WPIAL playoffs began quickly was dashed with a 1-0 loss to Canon-McMillan in the first round.
Plum is seeking to avenge its only section loss so far this season, a 2-1 setback to the Vikings Sept. 14 at Highmark Stadium.
It was a tough defeat just two days after a dramatic 3-2, double-overtime victory against Fox Chapel.
“Central is a good team with good senior leadership,” Russo said. “They are well organized, especially in the midfield. As long as we can win that battle, we match up pretty well at a number of positions. I don't think motivation will be a tough thing on Tuesday.”
Central Catholic did its part to set up Tuesday's clash with a 1-0 victory over playoff contender Allderdice (5-3-1) last Thursday.
“We're happy with where we're at, but we're not satisfied. We're still as hungry as when we started the season,” said sophomore midfielder Luke Gildea, who is battling through an ankle injury.
“With who we had coming back from last year and the freshmen coming in, we've been working really well together. Hopefully, that can take us further this year.”
Plum's win over Fox Chapel completed a regular-season sweep of the Foxes, something that hadn't been done in the series since the Mustangs went undefeated in section play in 2004.
Fox Chapel had the better of the results since then, holding a 16-4-4 advantage in the series from 2005 to last season.
Last Thursday's game was scoreless until Fox Chapel broke through with just under 15 minutes left. But it set the stage for a Plum comeback.
Senior Kole Lisovich scored on a penalty kick less than a minute later, and fellow senior Callan Scharba quickly followed with the winner.
The Mustangs then held off a Fox Chapel offensive push over the final 13 minutes.
“We worked hard in the offseason and the preseason to be really fit, and that's helped us late in games,” junior Jordan Floyd said.
Scharba leads the team in goals with seven. Freshman Dede Flowers has six goals, Floyd has five, and Lisovich and senior Sean Saich have four each.
Russo said he likes the way several scorers have emerged this season, and that gives opposing defenses a number of things to think about.
The season didn't start out the way Plum had hoped with losses to Shaler and West Allegheny at the Shaler tournament.
But the Mustangs responded with a 3-2 overtime win over Brashear. The teams met again Sept. 23, and Plum again won in overtime.
Brashear is 3-5 in section play, two games behind Fox Chapel (5-3) for the fourth playoff spot from the section. Russo said the section overall is tough and underrated.
“It's been overlooked and underestimated by a lot of the WPIAL before,” he said. “I think that proved to be the case last year with the way each team was seeded in the playoffs. There are a lot of teams in this section that are well organized and have strong technique. There are a lot of tough battles. When we do get to the playoffs, there are a lot of bumps and bruises to go around because of how physical section play is.”