WPIAL Boys Soccer Quarterfinal (Class 4A)
FINAL: Plum 4, Upper St. Clair 0
For Plum boys soccer program, it was a long time coming, as they earned its first playoff win since 2005, beating Upper St. Clair, 4-0, breaking open a tight affair with three goals in the second half on Wednesday night.
The Mustangs were led by Darius Flowers’ brace, plus goals from A.J. Koma. and Dom Chapkis, and a pair of assists from Luke Gildea and another key assist from Tyler Kolankowski.
“It’s been 14 years. It feels good to break the jinx,” Plum Head Coach Raf Kolankowski said. “I am happy for the kids.”
Holding a 1-0 lead at the half, Plum turned the tables after Upper St. Clair were knocking on the door numerous times late in the first half, and early in the second, but goalkeeper Gabe Kuhn came up with numerous big saves to keep the sheet clean.
With the win, Class 4A’s top-seeded Mustangs advance to the WPIAL semifinals for the first time in 14 years.
Up next, Plum will face Fox Chapel/Canon-McMillan on Saturday.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Plum came out on the front foot early, looking to stretch Upper St. Clair’s back line with some long diagonal balls primarily from midfielder Luke Gildea, and working the ball into the corners and setting up a few set pieces early.
One deep advance for Plum came in the 9th minute, when Upper St. Clair keeper Anthony Ioli battled with Tyler Kolankowski at the end line right of the goal, and was called for an infraction, setting up a rare in-direct kick near goal.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) October 24, 2019
With Upper St. Clair trying to build possession through the middle, Plum intercepted a pass, then Gildea made them pay in the 17th minute.
The senior midfielder turned and quickly sent a low lining, vertical pass that cut through Upper St. Clair’s back line and deep into the right side of the box for Darius (D.D.) Flowers to track down. Sure enough, Flowers beat USC’s keeper Anthony Iola to the ball, and delivered an accurate shot that rolled into goal for the 1-0 lead.
The match was played on pretty even terms for the rest of the first half, and early into the second half, as Upper St. Clair started to get into a rhythm building up possession and creating decent chances.
USC’s Colin Sibley had a pair of golden chances in the 37th minute.
First Sibley got inside last defender for shot saved by Plum keeper Gabe Kuhn. On the ensuing corner, Sibley was right in position on the far side of the box to place a solid header on frame, but again Kuhn was there for quick reaction save.
Five minutes into the second half, the Panthers sent a dangerous cross from the right side that deflected off a Plum defender, and nearly turned into an own goal that would have leveled the match, but Kuhn reacted quickly for another save.
“He definitely played a big game,” Kolankowski said. “He came up big for us. There were two or three there, that they (USC) were probably saying they could have had.”
Upper St. Clair kept pushing — and brought another hard shot from 16 yards by Jack Meyers — resulting in another Kuhn save.
“They definitely had their chances,” Kolankowski said of Upper St. Clair. “They’re a good team. They’re physical, they’re fast. They were able to attack for a while there.”
Plum were living dangerously, but showed why they’ve posted an impressive 16-0-2 record this season, by responding with an impressive goal that would completely shift the momentum of the match.
Senior forward Tyler Kolankowski tracked a ball down in the far right corner, then sent a blazing, low cross that sliced through the box to find A.J. Koma, who made a perfectly timed run into far side of the box. Unmarked, Koma had room and time to deliver a clinical finish that gave Plum a 2-0 edge.
“That was huge,” the elder Kolankowski said. “They sat back on us, and forced us to go over the top, because they crowded the middle. That was the plan at halftime, and it worked out for us. We’ve practiced them. I told them to keep doing it. We’ve scored many goals like that. And it worked out for us.”
Shortly after that, Plum got a huge break when Dominic Chapkis delivered a long free kick from past midfield into the center of the box, with Flowers challenging four USC defenders for the ball. As the group converged on the ball, it got through, caught Aoli out of position and bounced into goal.
In the 64th minute, Flowers cut loose on right side to beat the last USC defender to ball, then found room to deliver a right-footed shot while moving to his right into the left side of goal.
“Once we got the 2-0 lead, they started pressing, and things opened up from there for us,” Kolankowski said.
Plum, with a commanding 4-0 lead, closed out the match denying Upper St. Clair any clear-cut chances to get on the scoreboard.
Plum will now face Canon-McMillan, who beat Fox Chapel, 3-2 on Wednesday,
“It will be a good challenge for us,” Kolankowski said, “We’re definitely looking forward to it.”
POST-GAME INTERVIEW WITH D.D. FLOWERS