Monday night will bring four WPIAL Boys soccer semifinal matches in two classifications: 3A and 2A.
All matches are scheduled to kickoff at 6:30 p.m. at the home field for each school. In addition, we had an opportunity to interview a few coaches in advance of Monday’s games, including Franklin Regional’s Rand Hudson and Elizabeth Forward’s Doug Finke.
3A Semifinal Round
#3 West Allegheny at #2 Franklin Regional
This is a rematch of the past two WPIAL Class 3A finals, as Franklin Regional came out on top of two very tightly contested matches. West Allegheny did return the favor against Franklin Regional in the PIAA Semifinals in 2018 on its way to its first ever PIAA title.
This year, West Allegheny finished 11-1 in one of the toughest sections in all of WPIAL soccer. After a big first round win, In the quarterfinal, West A faced another challenge from its section rival Moon, winning 1-0, on an exhilarating golden goal in overtime.
From the press box, it was hard to see @JosephPustover score the OT game winner over Moon. The Veo camera got a much better view of it from the @WestABoysSoccer bench sideline. pic.twitter.com/MdhmPag5Gp
— West A Boys Soccer (@WestABoysSoccer) October 31, 2020
Despite being the 2-seed, Franklin Regional are the two-time defending WPIAL champions. FR’s potent attack is starting to peak with a 7-0 win vs Knoch, then a 4-0 win against Indiana in the first two rounds of the playoffs. All-State and All-American Anthony DiFalco is the straw the stirs the drink for the Panthers, as their go-to scorer and playmaker. They’re a deep and experienced team that includes seniors on the back line (Cole Kaforey, Luke Kimmich, Jake Sciorilli) and in net (goalkeeper Gianni Diacopoulos) who have been through their share of playoff battles. If opponents take away DiFalco, they better be prepared to deal with Blake Cooper & Zach Lorenz in the midfield.
SEMIFINAL PREVIEW WITH FRANKLIN REGIONAL’s RAND HUDSON
#13 South Fayette at #1 Mars
This should be a fascinating match-up. Top-seeded Mars have continued to win section titles and have regularly made it as far as the WPIAL semifinals, but haven’t progressed to the WPIAL final since 2016, when they were topped by another Section 2 school, Chartiers Valley. They also lost in the WPIAL final to South Fayette, when current PSN contributor Jordan Smith hit the golden goal in OT. Entering the playoffs without a loss and only surrendering three goals in the regular season, Mars earned its top seeding — even Franklin Regional’s Rand Hudson acknowledged that. In the quarterfinal round, much like West Allegheny, they were pushed to the limit against its section rivals, Hampton. In a match that remained scoreless until overtime, Dane Beller’s game-winner gave Mars the win.
South Fayette, one of those battle-tested teams from Section 2, where they finished in fourth place, are playing its best soccer in the playoffs as they’ve beaten 4th seed Plum (2-1 OT win on Saturday, Oct 24), then topped section foe Montour in their third meeting this season, 4-1, on Wednesday in the quarterfinal. The Lions are led by Chad Eldridge, who has scored in each of the two playoff games including the game-winner against Plum, then had a brace in the win vs Montour.
2A Semifinal Round
#6 Mount Pleasant at #2 Deer Lakes
These two schools were section foes in 2018 and 2019, but coach Floyd Snyder’s senior-led Mount Pleasant squad moved out of Deer Lakes’ section this year, and were co-champions of Section 3 (with Charleroi). Now, with nine of 11 starters from the 2019 squad back, they’re making noise in the playoffs. Mt. Pleasant will face their old section foes with a berth in the finals on the line. Deer Lakes is a team on a mission led by it’s senior midfield trio of Michael Sullivan, Devin Murray and Colton Spence. Despite taking their boys soccer program to unprecedented success, they came up short of WPIAL title in 2019, losing in overtime to Quaker Valley.
On Thursday, the Lancers faced a tough challenge as they threw everything at South Park, who withstood the Lancers attack and even put themselves in position to win, but a controversial non-handball call on a splendid South Park scoring chance put a shadow over the match. Make no mistake, Deer Lakes were more dominant for longer stretches, and eventually pulled through with a 1-0 win on Murray’s game-winner in the second-overtime. With Shady Side and Deer Lakes taking the top two seeds in this classification, Mt. Pleasant and Charleroi got the short end of the stick as far as seeding, as the 4th and 6th seeds respectively. Playing with a chip on its shoulders, Mt. Pleasant beat another former section foe, Burrell, 3-1, then knocked off Section 1 champs, North Catholic, 2-1. Now comes their biggest challenge for Mt. Pleasant: a Deer Lakes team that won’t be satisfied until they lift a WPIAL trophy.
#5 Elizabeth Forward at #1 Shady Side Academy
Section 1 champs Elizabeth Forward came into the playoffs on the roll, overcoming South Park in the standings and beating them in the final week of the regular season. Relegated to a 5-seed, EF showed why they were section champs with a pair of impressive wins in the first two rounds (beating Freedom 7-2 and Avonworth 2-0).
The Warriors will have to face Shady Side Academy who, much like fellow Section 4 mates, Deer Lakes, bring experience and talent. SSA’s only loss this year was in its return match, on the road at Deer Lakes. Ed Ellsworth’s squad always seems to save its best soccer in late October and early November, as the core group of upperclassmen on this year’s team were around for SSA’s back-to-back, miraculous WPIAL title wins vs Quaker Valley in 2017 and 2018, and now they’re making their mark. Among the experienced Shady Side players are Zach Conti, Bruce David, midfielders Sam Farner and Joey Anania and senior forward Hazem Hamda. Farner, a junior, was one of 15 area players to earn All-State honors last week. In the quarterfinals, SSA’s balanced attack was too much for Ambridge in a 4-1 win. Eli Naughton, Caleb Massie, Drew McKim and Jackson Suski each scored.
SEMIFINAL PREVIEW WITH ELIZABETH FORWARD’s DOUG FINKE