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Baldwin boys' soccer team misses playoffs despite strong finish

| Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The Baldwin boys' soccer team missed a WPIAL Class AAA playoff berth by the narrowest of margins.

Baldwin placed fourth in Section 4-AAA with a 7-4-1 record, slightly behind third-place finisher Ringgold, which ended up 7-3-2 in section play.

“This season had some ups and downs,” Adam Obranovich, Baldwin's head coach, said. “For the second year in a row, we did not qualify for the playoffs despite a good performance in our section.

“We would have qualified in any other Triple A section; that just shows you how tough our section schedule is. Every section game is like a playoff game for us.”

The Highlanders lost twice to section champion Bethel Park, lost once and tied once against runner-up Mt. Lebanon, and split decisions with Ringgold.

One key result in section play was a 1-1 tie between Ringgold and Bethel Park, which carried the Rams into third place in the final section standings.

“We beat Seneca Valley the first game of the season, and took defending (WPIAL) champion Canon-McMillan to overtime, so we were really close this year to accomplishing our goals,” Obranovich said. “The ball just didn't bounce our way a couple times when we needed it too.”

Junior forward Austin Vertullo was Baldwin's leading scorer with 17 goals and five assists.

Obranovich expects Vertullo to take another step forward in his scholastic soccer career next year.

“Austin has a lot of speed and a knack for finding the goal. He's one of those players that the other team has to worry about, because when he's in our offensive third, he possesses the ability to turn any play into a goal scoring opportunity,” Obranovich said. “He also scored on a few clutch penalty kicks this season, which shows he is mentally tough because penalty kicks are more mental than anything else.

“Austin has some little things to work on in the offseason and if he works hard, he will be the top player in the section next year rather than being one of the top players.”

Luke Picchi, a sophomore midfielder, finished with eight goals and 12 assists for the Highlanders this season, while senior forward Abdula Abdula accounted for seven goals and eight assists.

Senior forward Michael Harrell contributed five goals.

Junior Brandon Thompson started out as the Highlanders' starting goalkeeper until early season injuries forced him to the sideline.

Belmo Nurkic, also a member of the junior class, took over in goal for Thompson following the injuries.

“Belmo did a great job filling in at goalie for three-quarters of the season,” Obranovich said.

Baldwin ended up with a 9-7-2 overall record, finishing the campaign with five wins and a tie in the team's final seven games.

“I'm looking forward to next year,” Obranovich said. “We will be returning six starters, seven if you count Brandon Thompson, our injured goalie.”

Returning starters in 2014 will consist of Vertullo, Picchi, Nurkic, Thompson, junior defender Nick Schiller, sophomore midfielder Lewis Lippl and sophomore defender Nick Voigt.

The Highlanders will lose 13 seniors to graduation — Abdula, Harrell and forward Adolphus Tarley; midfielders Bimal Bhattarai, Nick Jugovic, Mukunda Khanal and Fedja Smajic; plus defenders Matt Goettman, Dan Goga, Babin Gurung, Alex Hissong, Marin Marina and Arjun Rimal.

“This year was a step in the right direction,” Obranovich said.

“Hopefully next year, with hard work in the offseason, we will be competing for the section title.”

Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or rfisher@tribweb.com.

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