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Freshman’s fabulous strike, strong defense lead Franklin Regional to first WPIAL title

Freshman’s fabulous strike, strong defense lead Franklin Regional to first WPIAL title

WPIAL Boys Soccer 3A Final

Franklin Regional 1, West Allegheny 0

In a much anticipated clash of WPIAL boys Class 3A soccer titans, Franklin Regional won its first-ever WPIAL title thanks to some fancy finishing by its freshman forward and a solid defensive effort in beating West Allegheny, 1-0 at Highmark Stadium on Thursday night.

It was an impressive performance and a signature win for a high school program that has been incrementally getting better over the years — culminating with Thursday evening’s win.

ED THOMPSON PHOTO GALLERY

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HOW IT HAPPENED

The two sides took turns pushing for the first goal in the first 30 minutes.

Franklin Regional looked dangerous early on when breaking out on a few counter attacks, while West Allegheny started to build up its attack a bit more methodically and started to stretch things by trying to get the ball forward to its dangerous striker, Fletcher Amos.

“We were aware of what they were trying to do. Our defense has stood up all year. We hadn’t been challenged like that much this year. I can’t say enough about what they’ve done,” Rand Hudson, Franklin Regional head coach, said.

Actually, it was a bit of a sloppy first half, as neither team were able to string together too many passes as it became apparent that each side were fortifying the spaces in and around the box.

It was going to come down to one special moment that would be the difference in a match where neither team would concede much from close range.

In the 31st minute Franklin Regional’s talented freshman forward Anthony DiFalco started to apply some pressure on goal from the right side.

After a ball was played into the box by Franklin Regional, DiFalco provided the match’s first hard strike on target, as he one-timed a shot that West Allegheny keeper Braden Wurst punched away. The ball bounced back toward DiFalco, but his second chance, also a one-timer, sailed pretty wide right of the goal.

DiFalco had some practice in that sequence for his ensuing opportune moment.

And it came with a sparkle of brilliance from from his ingenuity, and his right foot.

In the 34th minute, DiFalco’s teammate Austin Kranick accelerated into the final third, then laid off a pass to the right side. It was a well-played pass that caught DiFalco in stride. The freshman took a few touches, then caught his mark off guard by faking a shot on his immediate touch on the ball. This allowed him to create enough space to deliver a shot to his left. Even with space to shoot on his left side, DiFalco used the outside of his right foot to bend a shot over Wurst, and into the top left side of the goal.

“Incredible,” Hudson said. “Austin played it perfectly. Anthony knows where to go. He’s a stone-cold killer with scoring goals and keeping the ball. He saw that. Used the outside of the foot from there. He’s a special talent. He’s a rare talent. You’ll never believe he’s a freshman.”

Following this fabulous strike, West Allegheny did everything it could from box-to-box to push for the equalizer, but they couldn’t muster a quality chance from inside the 18 for most of the game as Franklin Regional’s back line were well organized.

“They’re a good team and they definitely put a lot of pressure on you,” Kevin Amos, West Allegheny coach said. “I didn’t think it was as much of what they did to shut us down, as it was us not taking advantage of our chances and finishing.”

With a lead, Franklin Regional played more comfortably, still attacking but keeping a tight-shape, forcing West Allegheny to try to solve a difficult and tricky puzzle.

“The goal really settled us down,” Hudson said. “It’s a game of momentum. A bit of magic really helped.”

Second half possession certainly favored the Indians, who started to mount numerous set piece chances, but Franklin Regional absorbed the pressure, and were dangerous on counter chances.

As the game reached the latter stages of the second half, the Indians pushed its captain, and Duquesne recruit, Nathan Dragisich higher up in the attack.

Dragisich, who has scored more than 30 goals this season and a school record 77 in his four-year career, kept running into a wall of blue shirts. His best chance may have come in the 68th minute, but Panthers’ keeper Jeremy Lucas, pushed the shot on frame away to deny the equalizer.

West Allegheny’s last chance to tie the match came after a Franklin Regional foul near the edge of the box in the 76th minute.

When the whistle blew, it set off a pretty wild celebration for Franklin Regional, in capturing its first-ever WPIAL soccer title, and West Allegheny had to settle for second in Class 3A for the second year in a row.

“It’s tremendous for our program,” Hudson said. “Over the years, we’ve done more and more. Eventually making playoffs, winning section titles. So we come to expect that here now. There was a hump that we couldn’t get over. But finally, once we got further (than) we ever had, they believed.”

PLAYER OF THE MATCH – Anthony DiFalco

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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