Third time not a charm as GCC boys lose to Winchester Thurston in boys soccer quarterfinals
Greensburg Central Catholic could not solve Winchester Thurston this season. Not in two section games and not in a playoff game.
And what really stings is all three games were decided by one goal.
Hoping the third time would be the charm, fifth-seeded GCC was clipped again by the Bears in the WPIAL Class A boys soccer quarterfinals at Hampton's Fridley Field. Fourth-seeded Winchester Thurston won 2-1, bringing the curtains down on the No. 5 Centurions' season.
The Bears (16-1) kept GCC (14-4-1) from a second semifinal trip in three years, using a late second-half goal by freshman midfielder James Votruba-Drzal to win their 15th consecutive game and advance.
Winchester Thurston will play No. 1 Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (18-1) in Saturday's semifinals.
“In the first half, we started well, but we fell into their trap,” GCC coach Tyler Solis said. “They like to slow it down. They slowed it down and frustrated us. It's tough because we also lost here last year.”
Freedom edged GCC, 1-0, in last year's quarterfinals at Hampton.
All three goals on a cold Wednesday night came off of free kicks.
After a lull in the first 20-plus minutes of the second half, play picked up. And Winchester Thurston took advantage of a fortunate bounce off one of the set pieces.
Diedrek-Paul Schlingeman, almost in the far corner, directed a free kick to the front of the net. An initial header by sophomore midfielder Alessandro Memoli was high, but the ball came down with odd spin. Votruba-Drzal bumped it in for a 2-1 advantage with 11 minutes, 38 seconds remaining.
GCC goalie Stephen Kendrish was cornered on the far left of the net.
“This was two teams that were equally matched,” Winchester Thurston coach Adam Brownold said. “When you play a team three times, you know them pretty well. It's like the Stanley Cup playoffs. You see a team several times, you learn their strengths and weaknesses.
“We knew it could be close again. We just wanted to go up this time and not have to come back.”
Winchester Thurston did not make the playoffs last season when injuries forced the Bears to start 15 different lineups.
The Bears won the WPIAL title and reached the PIAA semifinals in 2014, going 21-1-1.
“Our seniors this year were freshmen on that team,” Brownold said. “They wanted to get back to the playoffs and make another run.”
GCC's leading goal-scorer, junior Luke Mort, was knocked down hard as he drove in from the left side, but the Centurions did not get the call the 63rd minute. Mort was visibly upset by the no-call.
Solis thought GCC should have been awarded a penalty kick.
“I have talked to my guys about discipline and how they react to the refs,” Solis said. “They were better tonight. But that should have been called. It was blatant. He was dragged down.”
Brownold thought Mort tried to help sell the call.
“It's the playoffs, and you're going to see physical play,” the coach said.
The Bears opened the scoring in the 26th minute with a right-place, right-time situation. Memoli took a deep free kick from nearly midfield. The ball floated nicely to the front of the net, where senior forward Daniel Plaut was waiting. Plaut alertly one-timed a shot, which sneaked around Kendrish for a 1-0 lead.
Kendrish made eight saves. The Bears had only two shots in the second half.
GCC took momentum into halftime with a late goal.
Junior defender Josh Nelson lined up for a free kick, just as Plaut left the game after he was shaken up. The shot, from about 30 yards, sailed high and true and took a far-right bounce past Bears senior keeper Jivak Nischal for the equalizer to make it 1-1 in the 40th minute.
Kendrish made some dandy saves in the first 40 minutes, including one where he extended upward and bobbled a shot on his finger tips before pulling it in.
GCC nearly tied it on an energetic scramble in front of the cage in the 33rd minute, but two rebounds were stuffed. A direct kick by Nathan Ward with 5:48 left in the first half hit the football crossbar.
“Our seniors didn't want this to end,” Solis said. “But there is a reason this team beat us three times, and hopefully we can figure it out next season.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.