The two best teams in WPIAL Class 3A boys soccer for the past three months have been Franklin Regional and West Allegheny.
There was probably very little doubt about that when they met at Highmark Stadium in the WPIAL final a few weeks ago.
They reaffirmed this notion over the weekend when each won its PIAA quarterfinal matches, setting up a second showdown in another high stakes match with a trip to Hershey on the line Tuesday night at Fox Chapel High School (expected kickoff time: 8 p.m.).
It’s a game that could go either way.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH
Can West Allegheny’s attack solve Franklin Regional this time around?
On November 1, Franklin Regional capped an impressive district campaign by beating West Allegheny, 1-0, in a tightly contested match where the difference came from a brilliant strike from a freshman, Anthony DiFalco.
The Panthers defense held firm, and did an excellent job to limit the potent West Allegheny attack.
Franklin Regional didn’t shut down West Allegheny completely, conceding possession in the first game for stretches, but they were dangerous when counter-attacking and did an outstanding job to defend in the final third. DiFalco’s goal came when they got forward quickly, and into the box.
That’s all it took, was one moment for a talented freshman to deliver a skillful finish.
Sometimes at this point in the season though, it might take a scrappy, second-effort goal that could prove the be the difference.
In its two tightest contests of the postseason, Franklin Regional’s game winning goals have come from underclassman, DiFalco and on Saturday it was a sophomore, Jake Sciorilli., who scored the game winner against Cathedral Prep from a cross into the box that he chested down, and banged home with his left foot.
Despite knocking the ball around effectively for stretches, West Allegheny was lacking that something extra in the final third for much of the WPIAL final. Box-to-box, they were in control for good portions of the match.
That will have to change if they’re going to get one past a strong Franklin Regional back line.
More pressure in the box can lead to more chances, and that’s what West Allegheny will have to do to solve Franklin Regional. It would also help to generate more dangerous chances on set pieces like this one. They seem to be at their best when it’s senior leader Nate Dragisich is working as a play maker in the midfield, and getting the ball to solid attacking players like Fletcher Amos and Even Blunkosky.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) November 2, 2018
“They’re a good team and they definitely put a lot of pressure on you,” Kevin Amos, West Allegheny coach said after the first match. “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.”
In that first match at Highmark Stadium, Franklin Regional were coming off a relatively easy 5-0 win, while West Allegheny were pushed to the limit in a wild win that ultimately was decided after 110 minutes of play, and then penalty kicks. There could, possibly, be something said for West Allegheny having heavy legs in the WPIAL final.
This time around, both teams will have two days rest again, as both played 90 minutes on Saturday.
Another thing to watch will be if West Allegheny’s Braden Wurst, senior goalkeeper, is able to get back on the field for this game. Wurst went up for a ball, and came down hard, getting knocked unconscious in the win on Saturday. Anthony Fiordilino filled in nicely. As of Monday, Wurst’s status remained uncertain.
— West A Boys Soccer (@WestABoysSoccer) November 12, 2018
Remarkably, Wurst has played every single match in goal for the Indians since his freshman season, so if he were to miss the match, it would be unfortunate.
Franklin Regional’s equally dangerous attack has received contributions from numerous players, and even with West Allegheny controlling possession, they almost found the back of the net a few times in the first game in the second half when the game started to open up.
MORE ON WEST ALLEGHENY
- This current group from West Allegheny has been part of an impressive run by this program in recent years, and this group of seniors have come close to lifting a trophy a few times. The loss in the WPIAL final was the second in as many years, making the WPIAL finals in four of the past six years, previously winning its first title in 2013. With a win on Tuesday, they will reach the PIAA finals for the second time in school history — when the 2013 squad lost in OT in the final to Holy Ghost.
- West Allegheny is led by a Nate Dragisich, a Duquesne University recruit, who became the All-Time Goal and Assists leader in West Allegheny Soccer history last week. Heading into last week’s quarterfinals, Dragisich surpassed 80 goals and 50 assists in the playoffs. Nathan is a member of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2001 team and was selected as an ECNL All-American during the summer.
WA’s projected starting XI:
Braden Wurst (G), Nate Dragisich, Caleb Miller, Benjamin Farelli, Gavin Chappel, Fletcher Amos, Gabriel Haines, Antonio Fiordillo, Jaxon Ervin, Evan Blunkosky, Justin Shaytar
MORE ON FRANKLIN REGIONAL
- Playing in the WPIAL final was uncharted territory for the Panthers, and now getting this far in the PIAA playoffs is also a new frontier for Franklin Regional.
- It’s been an impressive campaign for this Franklin Regional program which did drop from Class 4A to 3A this season, rolling though 23 games without a loss.
- The Panthers success starts in the back — as coach Rand Hudson‘s team has not allowed more than one goal in a game all season: six total. They have 15 shutouts.
- The Panthers rely on a balanced attack. DiFalco and his fellow Beadling teammate, Jake Sciorilli, a sophomore defender, have been instrumental play makers in Franklin Regional’s rise this season.
Franklin Regional boys team practicing under the lights for Tuesday night’s PIAA Class 3A semifinal vs. West Allegheny.@FRPantherSports @FRGameday @TribLiveHSSN @TribHSInsider #TribHSSN pic.twitter.com/YJh6XecIDZ
— Bill Beckner (@BillBeckner) November 12, 2018
Franklin Regional projected starting XI
Jeremy Lucas (G), Connor Hudson, Justin LeDonne, Zach Snider, Auston Kranick, Cole Kaforey, Anthony DiFalco, Jacob Shulock, Matt Kimmick, Ryan Beard, Nolan Scholz
THEY SAID IT
Franklin Regional head coach Rand Hudson after winning the WPIAL championship:
“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.”