Rob Eldridge could have been speaking for Mt. Lebanon and Peters Township as much as he was commenting on behalf of his South Fayette boys club as the WPIAL soccer tournaments for all classifications commenced.
“We have a great opportunity in front of us,” Eldridge said as the Lions opened Class AAA playoff action against Blackhawk. “With some hard work and a little luck we could make a deep run.”
Hard work earned the Lebo boys and the Lady Indians section titles and the No. 2 seeds in the Quad-A tournaments. Both received first-round byes and will play home matches on Oct. 23 and 24 respectively in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. Good fortune may enable them to reach the finals set for Oct. 31-Nov. 2 at Highmark Stadium.
Of being positioned behind unbeaten Plum (15-0-2), Bill Perz said he believed his Blue Devils “earned” their seed. They were 13-4-1 heading into the postseason.
Though the Blue Devils have lost their last three games–all to playoff teams including No. 2 Mars (16-1-1)–they won the Section 2 banner with an 11-1 record. The lone defeat occurred against arch rival Upper St. Clair one match after the Blue Devils edged Canon-McMillan, 3-2, to clinch their first crown since 2010.
“We talk about how our section is a meat grinder,” said Perz, who added he thought Canon-Mac was a championship caliber team. “We are excited to move forward. We are happy that this group put in enough effort to earn the right at doing something special now.”
After receiving a first-round bye, the Blue Devils hope to extend their special season when they host either Butler or Connellsville on Oct. 23 in the quarterfinals. The semifinals will be played on Oct. 28.
“It goes back to what we have focused on all season and that’s we play one game at a time. We can’t look forward,” Perz said.
Neither are the Blue Devils looking back. After losing their section finale against USC, 1-0, they succumbed to the Planets, who are perennial championship contenders, and South Fayette, 3-1. Against the Lions, Lebo jumped ahead, 1-0, on a tally by Danny Simboro.
“I will say this about those three games, while they were losses, we learn from them,” Perz said. “Our guys did exactly what we asked them to do. In those games, we got a taste of what it’s going to be like in the playoffs. They prepared us for what’s ahead.”
What’s ahead can be an emotional roller coaster as soccer playoff games are often decided by a single tally, a golden goal in overtime or on penalty kicks in a shootout. Lebo has experienced that during last year’s attempt at a championship. The Blue Devils were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Seneca Valley, 7-0, after edging Connellsville, 3-2, in the first round.
“Definitely, the experience we got last year will help us,” Perz said. “It will help them cope with the intensity of the playoffs but in reality in a tournament like this, it’s one and done.”
While Canon-McMillan (12-3-1) earned the No. 3 seed and also drew a first-round bye in the boys Quad-A tournament, USC (11-3-2) hosted North Allegheny (11-6-1) in the tournament opener for the right to face Plum in the quarterfinals. The Big Macs were to face the winner between Fox Chapel (12-3-1) and Woodland Hills (9-7-1) on Oct. 23.
Meanwhile, in Class AAA, South Fayette is coming off its 3-1 triumph against Lebo. In the victory, Ethan Sanders, Sam Orecchio and Max Snodgrass scored the goals while Gavin Eldridge and Ethan Bollinger earned assists.
The Lions finished runner-up in Section 3, behind Franklin Regional, which is unbeaten at 15-0-1 as well as the No. 1 seed in the Class AAA tournament. South Fayette (14-3-0) hosted Blackhawk (10-3-4) for the right to advance to the quarterfinals on Oct. 23 against either Belle Vernon (16-1-0) or Indiana (8-9-1).
“We need to commit to being defensive-minded and compete through all phases of the game,” said Eldridge on what the Lions need to continue to do in order to be successful in the postseason.
On the girls’ side, Peters Township is committed to returning the the finals. Last year, the Indians lost a heartbreaker to Seneca Valley in overtime of the Quad-A championship contest. They also lost in the PIAA semifinals.
This autumn, Peters Township mounted a 16-1-1 record. With a 3-2 win over Canon-McMillan, the Lady Indians sealed the Section 2 banner with a 12-1-1 slate.
Although technically tied with Moon (14-2-1), the Lady Indians held the seeding edge by virtue of their tie and win against the Tigers during league play.
Against the Lady Macs, Casey Breier scored the game-winning goal with 7:10 remaining in the second overtime period.
PT jumped ahead, 2-0, on goals from Jullian Marvin, before the Lady Macs waged a comeback to tie the match on tallies from Sarah Powell and Emily Gross and force OT.
After a first-round bye in the tournament, PT was to face the winner of the Butler (11-4-1) vs. Connellsville (12-4) contest on Oct. 24. The quarterfinal winners advance to the semifinals set for Oct. 26 at a site and time to be determined.
In other first-round action, the Lady Macs were scheduled to visit Seneca Valley (11-3-2) while Upper St. Clair (11-5) was set to host Fox Chapel (9-7-1) on Oct. 21. A Panther win would yield a showdown with top-seeded Norwin (16-1-1). Should the Lady Macs triumph over the Raiders, they would take on the winner of the Moon-Hempfield (5-8-1) contest. Both quarterfinal clashes are set for Oct. 24.
In other playoff games involving local teams:
South Fayette (8-8) will travel to Oakland Catholic (12-4-1) for its first-round playoff game on Oct. 21 in the girls Class AAA tournament. Mars (14-0-1) and Plum (14-1-0) are the top seeds in the grouping and received first-round byes.
Seton LaSalle (8-5-3) played Trinity Christian (10-7-0) while Bishop Canevin (9-6-1) battled Riverside (13-3-0) in first-round Class A boys playoff games.
Chartiers Valley (7-7-2) faced Moon (15-2-0) in a first-round Class AAA boys playoff game on Oct. 19.
The PIAA soccer playoffs begin Nov. 5 with quarterfinal action set for Nov. 9 and semifinals on Nov. 12. The PIAA championships will be held Nov. 15-16 in Hershey.