Mt. Lebanon reached the WPIAL Quad-A boys’ championship soccer match by edging Seneca Valley, 2-1, in a semifinal game played at Moon High School on Oct. 26
It was the second come-from-behind victory in the playoffs for the Blue Devils. After a first-round bye, they scored three goals in the final 70 seconds to beat Butler, 3-1.
“We have been in situations like that, including in the regular season,” said Bill Perz, who guided Lebo to a section championship with only one loss. “I was confident in our guys and their ability to react.”
In dire straits, Giuseppe Croce reacts. Not only did he score a pair of goals, including one off a penalty kick, to spearhead Lebo’s triumph against Butler, the senior midfielder exploded for both tallies against the Raiders.
With 23 minutes to left in the first half, Croce scored the equalizer. Five minutes into the second half, he registered the game winner.
“The kid’s on fire,” Perz said of Croce, who scored 16 goals in the regular season. “He’s a big-time player. He’s come up huge for us.”
In the final 35 minutes of play, Steve Vines came up huge for the Blue Devils. He made a point-blank save and turned away several corner kicks by the Raiders. SV also struck the post on two chances.
“In a game like this you have to have your keeper come up and make a huge save,” Perz said. “You also have to have a little bit of luck, which we did, because they hit a couple posts.”
Lebo proved “unlucky” when Ben Francis scored in the game’s opening five minutes. The senior midfielder broke away for a goal lifting the Raiders into the lead, 1-0.
“We talked about the field conditions and the weather. I think we got called out on that,” said Perz of the contest that was played throughout persistent rain showers, “but No. 10 of theirs is an all-star player and he had his opportunity.”
The victory afforded the Blue Devils the chance to play for their first championship in 10 years. In 2009, Lebo defeated rival Upper St. Clair in overtime when the finals were then played at Elizabeth-Forward High School before being moved to Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh.
“These guys have been working extremely hard with this in mind,” Perz said of the WPIAL finals. “So for them to earn the right to go to Highmark is really something to be proud of. Proud of the way our staff got them ready to go. I know all of Mt. Lebanon nation is proud of them right now.”
C-M beats Plum
The Blue Devils’ opponent in the WPIAL final was a familiar foe.
By virtue of its own come-from-behind victory, Canon-McMillan slipped past top-ranked Plum, 3-2, on Oct. 26.
It was the first loss this season for the Mustangs (16-1-2) while the Big Macs improved to 14-3-1. Two of those defeats came against the Blue Devils, 3-1, on Sept. 17 and 4-3 on Oct. 8.
In the semifinal, Plum and C-M exchanged penalty kicks with Lucas Gildea scoring for the Mustangs and Joey Fonagy converting for the Big Macs.
Tyler Kolankowski provided Plum a 2-1 advantage that stood up until Fonagy struck again. With 5:17 remaining, he headed a free kick from Luck Gladden into the net for the equalizer.
Three minutes later, Gladden set up the game winner with another free kick. Owen Maher headed a rebound into the net giving the Big Macs their first championship berth since winning the WPIAL AAA title over Fox Chapel in 2015.
The Big Macs had been to the Final Four three straight years. Last year, they lost on a late goal to Seneca Valley, 3-2. Two seasons ago, they succumbed to North Allegheny, 9-0.
“We came in thinking about the last two years losing here,” Fonagy said. “It wasn’t going to happen a third time.”