|PIAA BOYS SOCCER: ATHENS UPENDS CRESTWOOD, 3-1, FOR FIRST-EVER STATE PLAYOFF WIN (44 PHOTOS) (2018-11-06)
BY TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
LEHMAN, Pa. — Athens scored a pair of goals less than two minutes apart to overcome an early deficit en route to a 3-1 win over Crestwood in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA boys soccer playoffs here Tuesday evening at Edward Edwards Stadium on the campus of Lake Lehman High School.
The win is the first-ever state playoff victory in school history.
“I’m very proud of these guys, they earned it,” said longtime Athens coach Jake Lezak.
“It’s an enormous win. It’s great for the program, and for the players,” he noted. “It shows the progress that’s been made over many, many years.
“I’ve always believed we’ve had teams good enough to go deeper into the playoffs, and this is a team that can definitely do that,” added Lezak.
Crestwood took the opening kick right down the field and Hubert Herrera ripped a hard shot, but Athens junior keeper Joel Maslin deflected the ball into the air, and junior defender David Scheftic headed the ball toward the top of the box, where the Wildcats cleared the ball to midfield.
Crestwood drew first blood on a goal by Max Gariano with 21:30 remaining in the first half.
“We went down 1-0, but we’ve been there before,” said Lezak. “In the state playoffs, you need to keep your composure, and the guys did that.”
Athens took the ensuing kick down the middle of the field, with junior Luke Arnold moving the ball outside to junior Jesse Sumner, who slid a pass to senior Willey Tilley deep in the box. Tilley punched a shot just wide of the post.
With 2:18 remaining in the first half, Arnold lofted a long ball from the right sideline to the left wing, where Sumner chased it down, manuevered past a defender, and fired a shot across the keeper’s face into the side of the net at the far post to tie the game at 1-1.
“It was a great shot,” said Lezak. “(Sumner) broke a guy down on the wing, then put his shot on target inside the far post.”
With 36 seconds remaining, junior Alex Rowe put the Wildcats ahead when he punched a pass from junior Jake Corino, who had one-touched a pass from Arnold, into the net.
“That was a big goal, it was very important for us to get that one in,” said Lezak. “It was a big shift in momentum.
“It happened so quickly,” he said. “It was a matter of our guys getting the ball off their foot quickly.
“We talked late in the season about the importance of getting the ball down and out in the postseason. It’s gotta be quick touches, two touches max, otherwise it’s going to slow us down.
“That’s what they did and it resulted in a goal for us,” added Lezak.
The momentum didn’t seem to carry over as Crestwood nearly scored about 90 seconds into the second half
Herrera carried the ball through a pair of Athens defenders deep into the box before being slowed down. Maslin attempted to cover the ball, but it was poked away from. Junior Doug Vosburg got a foot on the loose ball and kept it alive until Maslin recovered and gained control of it.
About 4 1/2 minutes later, Herrera launched a direct kick from near midfield that ricocheted off the football goal post (Photo 41) above the crossbar of the soccer net, and into the box, where the Athens defense kept the ball away from Crestwood until Maslin regained his footing and control of the loose ball.
For the next 20 minutes, the Comets controlled much of the possession but never had a dangerous scoring opportunity.
“At this level, the top teams are going to be able to come back and put more pressure on you, and they did that,” said Lezak. “They put a lot of pressure on us until late in the second half.
“They changed up the way they were playing, formation-wise to put more pressure on us,” he noted. “They moved more guys forward and it really slowed us down and our ability to play out, but we adjusted.
“We handled it pretty well,” added Lezak. “There were times we didn’t handle it so well, but guys came in and made plays.”
The Wildcats started to regain control of the game with about 15 minutes remaining, and had a pair of good scoring opportunities, but could not finish.
With 3:34 remaining in the contest, Crestwood was whistled for a hand ball 48 yards from the goal.
Moments later, Scheftic launched a line-drive shot on the direct kick under the cross bar, and just over the outstretched fingers of the Comet keeper to give the Wildcats a 3-1 lead.
“That was a great goal,” said Lezak.
“We talked all game about putting our kicks — all of our free kicks and our corner kicks — on target, and being dangerous,” he noted.
“We preached to the guys at halftime, put the ball on target and make the goal keeper handle it.
“We needed to be dangerous with our free kicks and our corner kicks, and that’s what that one came down to,” added Lezak.
Saturday, in the state quarterfinals, Athens (19-1) will face District 1 champion Strath Haven (14-6-2), which edged Mechanicsburg 2-1 in overtime Tuesday. The site and time will be announced Wednesday.
(CLICK HERE FOR 20 MORE PHOTOS.)
IN PHOTO 1: Athens junior Jesse Sumner. … PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.
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