Champs move ahead in state

The Avonworth boys’ soccer team celebrated their WPIAL championship by following the Olympic medalist tradition of biting their gold medals. It was a well-earned victory, with Avonworth holding Greensburg Central Catholic at a 2-2 tie through two overtime periods, and finally winning in the sudden death shoot-out. The boys already have won their first PIAA playoff game, and move into the second round of state competition on Saturday. See the story on Page 9. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Prior to last week’s matchup in the WPIAL final, soccer Coash Tom Angell acknowledged the challenge that his team faced.

“This is our second WPIAL final in the last four years and we are very excited for the challenge that we will see from an excellent Greensburg Central Catholic team,” Angell said.

He said that going into the game, the team felt that GCC had two strong players and that if “we defended them strongly then we could beat them with our remaining nine, because we felt we had a deeper team.”

His assessment of the opponent was right on target. With goals in regulation having been scored by Sam Guzzo and Jason Novosel, the game, played at Highmark Stadium, remained tied 2-2 after regulation and two overtime periods, moving on to a shoot-out in which back-up goalie Luke Wagner was called on to take over for the team’s regular goalie, Timmy Stewart, who had been sidelined earlier with an injury.

“We got an early lead and played very defensively to hold on, but an unfortunate play occurred with an obvious foul that was not called that allowed GCC to tie the game. Our team again showed a great toughness and resiliency to bounce back from a catastrophic ending to make it through two overtimes and get to the shoot-out. We feel that we are very good at PK shooting and defending and we came out with the victory. We would all like to thank everyone for all of the support,” Angell said.

Soccer, of course, is a game of goals and, very importantly, of goalies. Speaking of his injury, Stewart said, “I was very surprised the officials didn’t call anything. I got the ball shortly after and tried to kick it and there was a shooting pain. After some time I saw Luke coming onto the field for me and I was both happy and unhappy. But I had all the faith in the world for him. I was sad I couldn’t finish the game, but Luke came up huge for me and I’m grateful for him and being able to make school history,” Stewart said.

Wagner, a junior, realized the pressure that had suddenly been thrust upon him.

“The team had just been through over 80 minutes of intense, rough soccer, and I knew that if we wanted to win that gold medal, I really had to lock down and save everything. I can't say that I was worried or even stressed. If anything, I was determined to make the saves that I had to and was excited at the chance to show what I'm made of,” Wagner said.

In the first round of the shoot-out, both teams’ players completed their kicks to move it to sudden death.

After one more Avonworth kick found the back of the net, Wagner stopped the game-winning shot to give the ‘Lopes the victory.

It was about as dramatic a victory as any team, any sport could experience, with Wagner explaining his strategy.

“When it came down to the penalty kick shoot-out, it was increasingly frustrating that I guessed wrong on a few, so I slowed myself down and made the save when it meant the most to secure the win,” Wagner said.

As the team moved on the PIAA state playoff rounds, their record then stood at 20-0-1 prior to a first-round game versus West Shamokin at Mars High School on Tuesday, where goals were scored by juniors Tyler Bryan and Aymeric Verdier and seniors Sam Guzzo and Michael Mucha to top Shamokin, 4-2.

“We got back to our game of passing and controlling the ball and it resulted in four goals. We're excited to continue our state run on Saturday against Rockwood. The support from the community as we were able to achieve Avonworth's first ever state playoff win was great to see,” Angell said.

‘Lopes soccer takes on the Rockets of Rockwood High School, located near Johnstown, in the next round of PIAA playoffs at 3 p.m. at Peters Township High School.