Penn Hills and Gateway loom as big section matchups for Plum boys soccer
The Plum varsity boys soccer team opened Section 3-AAA play with a 4-1 loss to Central Catholic and then rebounded with a 3-1 win over Allderdice.
A 5-0 setback to Fox Chapel followed to put the Mustangs at 1-2 in conference play.
A three-game section week, which continues Thursday against Penn Hills at 7:30 p.m. at Linton Middle School and Saturday at 1 p.m. with Gateway at home, head coach Dave Baleno hopes, will boost his team as it heads into the second half of the section slate.
“The three section games are so important for us,” Baleno said.
“We are trying to fight back from losses to Central Catholic and Fox Chapel. These games are so vital to get to where we need to be as the first half of section play ends. Penn Hills and Gateway are our neighbors and are fighting for the same things we are. They are always fun games to play with a lot of emotion and energy.”
Tuesday's matchup with Woodland Hills at Plum was to end past the deadline for this week's edition.
Baleno knows how close these section games can be. He was on the sidelines as an assistant last year when Plum rallied against Gateway on a Saturday afternoon at Plum.
The Mustangs won that game in overtime on a goal from Stephen Hemmerle.
Baleno said that as important as physical toughness and preparation is in these rugged section matchups, mental fitness also plays a big part.
Plum also will play three games next week, with section contests against Central Catholic at home on Tuesday, a game at Allderdice two days later and a home game against Fox Chapel on Saturday, Sept. 28.
It marks three straight weeks with a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday stretch.
“With school, practice and games, things like good nutrition and proper rest are key,” Baleno said.
“If you lose concentration in games, the other teams can score quickly, and that could be the difference between a win and a loss.”
Baleno said senior defender Austin Baer, who suffered a knee injury against Allderdice on Sept. 6, returned for last Saturday's nonsection game against North Allegheny and played well.
“Austin's such a strong tackler with great speed. You have to have that on defense,” Baleno said.
“It's tough to play against a guy like that. Even if you beat him, he's going to be right on your tail. It's so hard to beat him in the first place because he's such a good tackler. Austin can shut down his part of the field effectively, and he and Stephen (Hemmerle) create a wall. When the communication is high and they read each other's body language well, they are tough to beat.”
Junior defender Max Barone still is out from his injury against Central Catholic on Sept. 3. Baleno said he's not sure when Barone will be back.
Junior Orazio Barbarino and senior Corey Williams each scored goals against North Allegheny, but the Tigers scored a 4-2 win Saturday.
North Allegheny was without senior Division I prospect Sean Dickerson, who was on a college recruiting trip.
“Even without (Dickerson), North Allegheny is an extremely strong team,” Baleno said.
“It was a good test for us, especially in this early part of the season having already played Central Catholic and Fox Chapel. All three teams are in the higher bracket in the WPIAL.
“We took the game to them at times, and they took the game to us. Two of their goals came from our mistakes.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.