Baldwin boys fall just short of playoff berth
Baldwin's boys soccer team narrowly missed qualifying for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs this season, finishing fifth in Section 2.
Peters Township won the section crown with a 10-0 record, followed by Upper St. Clair (6-4), Canon-McMillan (5-5), Mt. Lebanon (4-5), Baldwin (3-7) and Bethel Park (1-8-1).
The Highlanders ended up 5-13 overall.
“Our goal to start the season was to make the playoffs; we came up just short,” said Allen Duda, Baldwin's first-year coach. “The players adjusted to the new coaches and style of play very well. We really began playing the possession game toward the latter half of season. We hope to be in the (playoff) hunt next year.”
This year's team was dominated by seniors, led by fourth-year players Launthar Eh (midfielder), Devlin Iaquinta (forward), Damian Pfaff (defender), Janvier Ramson (forward) and Valon Rexhepi (forward).
“It's been a pleasure playing for Baldwin for the past four years, although my freshman season was cut short due to injury,” said Eh, who is Burmese. “These four years have been some of the best years of my life because of this team. It's an experience I'll never forget, and I'm thankful I've been able to be a part of this program. I'm gonna miss stepping out onto the field as a Baldwin player.”
Goalkeeper Joe Hughey, defender Vishal Kharel and forward Ryan Carr also were seniors in 2017.
“We have eight seniors graduating this year,” Duda said. “They will be missed.”
The junior class was represented by midfielders Liam Belan, Jared Bell and Ajet Subba; defender John Ziegler; and goalkeeper Jackson Brandwene.
Rounding out the squad were sophomore midfielders Thar Hsern, Michael Rector, Raymond Thomas and Pasi Oswald; plus freshmen Joey Moeller (midfielder) and Kurt Schemm (defender).
For the most part, Baldwin's lineup consisted of Iaquinta and Ramson at forward; Eh, Belan, Oswald, Bell and Thomas at midfield; Pfaff, Ziegler and Schemm on defense, and Brandwene or Hughey in goal.
Rexhepi and Carr filled in at forward, and Subba, Moeller, Hsern and Rector were midfield reserves. Kharel provided support on defense.
“This season was full of ups and downs,” Eh said. “Things didn't always go the way we wanted them to, especially some of the section games. I feel like we could've done better, should've done better. But overall, I'm happy with everyone's effort and performance, especially the underclassmen who were playing varsity for their first time.
“Everyone showed up to every game ready to play. At the end of the day, we stuck together and even though we didn't make the playoffs like we hoped to, I'm very happy with our team.”
Eh plans to continue playing in college, where he will pursue a major in the science/medical field.
“I don't have a set college that I've decided on yet,” he said, “but I know that I want to continue to play competitive soccer in college. I'm looking at different schools and receiving help (with college contacts) from Coach Duda, as well. Hopefully I can find the right school for both athletics and academics.”
Duda, a veteran face around the area's soccer scene, was new to the Highlanders program this year.
“This was a true learning experience this season, not only for myself but for the players, as well,” Duda said. “I think it's a bigger adjustment for the players to learn and adjust to my coaching style. The players did well. The team chemistry really did show in our play from midseason on.”
Eh, Pfaff and Ramson were the Highlanders' captains for a second consecutive year.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.