BOYS 2A FINAL
#2 Quaker Valley (16-4-1) vs. #5 Shady Side Academy (14-2-1)
Highmark Stadium, Saturday, 1:15 p.m.
This final is another familiar match-up this weekend, although these teams are not — or ever have been – section rivals — they have crossed paths in the WPIAL playoffs over the years.
Former Pittsburgh Riverhounds defender Andrew Marshall has brought the Quaker Valley program, which has won numerous titles, back into the WPIAL Finals, after the Quakers were led by Gene Klein for many years. Klein amassed seven WPIAL titles, the last coming in 2012.
On the other side, Shady Side have always had a strong boys soccer program (having had a program since the 1920s!!), but since entering the WPIAL in the late 1990s, have yet to win a WPIAL title. The Indians have also been lead by a new coach the past two years, Ed Ellsworth, who has the Indians back in the Finals for the first time since 2008.
Shady Side Academy, which has elected to play up to higher classification since 2009, has been to the final three times — 2002, 2006 and 2008 in single A classification– but had had to settle for the runner-up trophy each time. This will be its first appearance in a title game in 2A.
HOW THEY GOT HERE…
Since starting the season 1-2-1, Quaker Valley has gone 15-2 in its last 17 games. The Quakers only losses are to 1A Champs Sewickley Academy and 4A quarterfinalist Canon-McMillan. The Quakers did not lose a game in Section 4, outscoring opponents, 56-8. Five of those goals allowed came in a wild, 6-5 win against Beaver. Those teams met again in the semifinals. The Quakers earned their third win of the season against the Bobcats, this time rallying for a 3-2 victory.
Shady Side Academy only hiccups in the regular season were primarily against section foe Freeport, with a loss and a tie. The Indians are 13-1-1 in its last 15 games, but have been living on the edge in the postseason. After rolling to a 5-0 win against Southmoreland in the first round, the Indians have won each of their last two games in double overtime.
TACTICS, STRATEGIES & PLAYERS TO WATCH
If the past playoff games between the two are any indication, this one should be a fun match-up with lots of skill and quality players on both sides.
The Quakers feature a pretty deep roster for the 2A level, but primary threats are Ian Rodgers and Owen Harkins.
Rodgers, a junior, has been the team’s top goal scorer in the postseason, scoring twice against Central Valley in the quarterfinals and twice against Beaver in the semifinals. Harkins, a senior, scored the winning goal against Beaver.
Both teams will both look to win the possession battle the game, and on the big field at Highmark, should both use the width to knock the ball around quite a bit for a wide open game. A former hard-nosed defender, I am sure that Marshall will have the Quakers prepared tactically for the Indians, and goals may be at a premium.
I had a chance to coach some of Shady Side players when they were younger — and they’ve got a lot of quality, skillful players with senior leadership that’s so important deep into the playoffs. Brenden Brasinski, Ben Ream and Eric Zhang are all strong threats to score. While Ream (18 goals) hasn’t scored a goal in the postseason, Zhang, a defender, has scored both of the Double-OT goals to beat Waynesburg and top-seeded South Park.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
I happened to be a part of the last two playoff games between these two schools on the sidelines with the SSA coaching staff.
In 2011, the Indians hung on at Quaker in a wild first round game despite being down a man for most of the overtime periods in a match that went to penalty kicks.
SSA won the PK shootout, but three years later in the quarterfinals, Quaker Valley beat Shady Side on a late 2nd half goal in one of the last games coached by long-time Quakers coach Gene Klein.