First, it was North Allegheny’s boys team that pulled off comebacks when trailing late in consecutive WPIAL finals games, in 2016 and 2017, to pull out improbable back-to-back district championships.
Now, Shady Side Academy boys have pulled off repeat magic too.
When I approached Shady Side Academy’s head coach Ed Ellsworth after his team came-from-behind for an improbable win decided by penalty kicks to beat the top-ranked team in his classification, Quaker Valley, I told him that those of us that witness what just happened were a bit lost for words.
Ellsworth, like most coaches, pays attention to every last detail and leaves few stones unturned. From his viewpoint, he tries to prepare his team to be ready for any possible scenario.
That being said, the fourth-year Shady Side coach is one of the most unconventional coaches you’ll see. After all, how many coaches will rotate goalkeepers in and out of games with regularity?
Also, he experiments with things through the regular season, almost to a detriment, as Shady Side underachieved and slid into the playoffs for the second consecutive season as a lower seed.
Ellsworth sure has his team ready for the playoff soccer though.
Earlier in the season, in one of our first featured PSN games, when Shady Side hosted Seton-LaSalle, Ellsworth pulled his first-half keeper, Bruce David for Zach Conti. Within the first minute of the second half, Conti came way, way off his line to try to beat a Seton-LaSalle forward to the ball. Conti lost that battle, and Seton-LaSalle scored to take a commanding 2-0 lead, and would eventually win the match by the same scoreline.
Last year, Shady Side won the match against Quaker Valley after trailing 2-1 late, by scoring goals off long throw-ins — one of them a bicycle kick from Wally Navid near the end of regulation, and the other in overtime.
When Quaker Valley scored in the first minute of this past Saturday’s match, as a ball played into the box got through the hands of David, and provided an opening for a clinical finish from Dom Reiter, it looked like — maybe this time around — the Quakers would dominate this year’s match.
“It was unfortunate. It slipped right through his (David’) hands,” Ellsworth said. “It got behind him, and the player’s wide open and puts it in.”
To his credit, David didn’t let the early goal bring him, or his teammates down.
“Coach always says, if I bring myself down, I’ll bring my whole team down,” David said after the match.
Quaker Valley came into the contest on a roll, and the likely favorites. After all, they had won a few days earlier in convincing fashion, beating previously unbeaten Charleroi, 5-0, while Shady Side beat its section rivals, Deer Lakes, 1-0.
The Quakers followed up its goal on Saturday by bringing tons of pressure on Shady Side and David, forcing them to scramble to clear balls out of danger and make saves for much of the first half to keep the score at 1-0. In fact, on one sequence, David made a double save.
At the half, Ellsworth did the goalkeeper swap again, bringing in Conti at the start of the second half.
This time, Conti wouldn’t make any mistakes.
Sure, he came off the line a bunch of times. That’s what the junior keeper does a lot — playing aggressive in getting to balls.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) November 3, 2018
Conti also had to make a few tough saves between the posts too when needed.
With Quaker Valley unable to convert to get a two-goal lead, the Indians started to flip the match as the second half played out, possessing the ball with more confidence, pushing for the equalizer and spending more time in the attacking third.
“To be quite honest,” Andrew Marshall, Quaker Valley’s coach said. “They probably had the better of the play in the second half, and deserved one.”
Eventually, pressure along the left sideline, the Indians drew a foul, setting up what would be one last ditch effort for a free kick with less than a minute remaining in regulation. From the press box view, it was tough to tell if it was a foul, or not.
Quaker Valley’s players contested the call, to no avail.
Max Pipitone delivered a very well-placed service to the far post area.
SSA senior Kenny Shergill was there at the spot at the far post where his teammate put the ball into the goal — sending off quite a celebration.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) November 3, 2018
Despite a strong response from Quaker Valley in the extra time periods, and a few chances for Shady Side, this one would come down to penalty kicks.
With about five minutes left in the second overtime, Ellsworth went over to the keeper that started the match: Bruce David.
“I told him to start warming up,” Ellsworth said. “I said, very rarely do you get a second chance to make something right. You’re going to get your chance.”
“It’s not often you get a second chance to do something, and make things right,” David said after the match. “Coach kept telling me that I would have my chance.”
David didn’t disappoint.
In fact, He did the improbable.
He stopped all three penalty kicks that came his way.
“It doesn’t happen. He needs to buy a lottery ticket,” Marshall quipped. “All due respect. He’s athletic. Decisive. Confident. Made all the plays. Credit to him.”
Another early November.
And it was another improbable WPIAL title win.