Serra Catholic to face Winchester Thurston team riding major momentum
Under normal circumstances it wouldn't raise too many eyebrows if an 11th-seeded team defeated a No. 6 in the playoffs. It pretty much happens all the time.
When Nikhil Mohan scored with 26 seconds remaining in the first overtime Monday night, however, it helped Winchester Thurston (12-6-0) pull off one of the more surprising upsets in the WPIAL Class A playoffs in recent years. Not only did it mean the Bears would advance into the quarterfinals, but they had ended the reign of two-time defending champion Seton-La Salle.
“It was kind of surreal,” Winchester Thurston coach Adam Brownold said. “It's a feeling that not too many people experience, and it's pretty awesome.”
Seton-La Salle is one of only three teams to win the WPIAL Class A title since the PIAA first added the classification in 2000. The other two are top-seeded Sewickley Academy and No. 4 Greensburg Central Catholic, and they could meet in the semifinals.
Winchester Thurston's win not only opened up the bracket to the possibility of an unheralded challenger in the championship game, it set up an intriguing matchup at 6 p.m. on Thursday. That is when the Bears take on Section 1 rival and third-seeded Serra Catholic (14-2-1), a team it has lost to twice this year during the regular season at Linton Middle School in Penn Hills.
“I don't know if you could say they're due against us, but you've got to be concerned because we've seen each other twice and we know each other,” Serra Catholic coach Don Sabol said. “I'm sure they're going to be making some preparations for what they've seen against us as we're going to be doing to them.”
Winchester Thurston may have nightmares about what Serra Catholic has been able to pull off in the first two meetings. The Eagles won a 3-1 match on the Bears home field Sept. 13, then won the next, 3-0, on Sept. 29.
“We didn't come in prepared, and for some reason, Serra intimidates my team, and we need to get over that intimidation factor,” Brownold said. “I think it's their speed, and they're a very good team, and I don't know what it is, but the first two games I feel like they're in my players' heads, and hopefully after (the win over Seton-La Salle), they can get them out of their heads and go in with confidence.”
It would certainly seem that Winchester Thurston would have erased any doubts with the win over the Rebels. Seton-La Salle had won a playoff game every season since 2004, when it missed the tournament entirely and had won four titles since 2006.
It's not like Serra Catholic isn't coming into this game riding a high. The Eagles are 9-0-1 in their last 10 with seven shutouts including a 5-0 win over Beth-Center on Monday that ended a nine-year postseason victory drought.
“I don't think there's any problem for these boys as far as enthusiasm in getting ready for this game,” Sabol said. “They're fired up right now.”