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West Allegheny survives its toughest test to beat Plum, 2-1, to advance to WPIAL final

Photo courtesy WestABoysSoccer twitter

The West Allegheny boys soccer team had to fight off its toughest challenge to date this season in a match that featured three penalty kicks in 80 minutes of regulation, but rallied to pull out a 2-1 victory over a resilient Plum in the WPIAL Boys Soccer Class 3A semifinal played at North Allegheny High School on Monday evening.

West Allegheny were led by Johnny Dragisich, who scored a goal and had an assist on Joey Cosnek’s header finish, while Plum’s Lucas Pittman converted on a penalty kick that leveled the match halfway through the second half.

The win keeps West Allegheny’s season perfect and puts them in the WPIAL Class 3A Boys final for the third time in four years, while Plum came up short in the district semifinal round for the second time in the past three years.

“It was one of those games, everyone was going all out to win,” Kevin Amos, West Allegheny’s Head Coach said. “There were three PK’s tonight. That’s crazy. We had to show a lot of heart tonight. We didn’t play our best game, but credit to Plum, they set us off our game a little bit.”

How It Happened

West Allegheny, as they have all season, came out aggressively pushing for scoring chances, drawing numerous fouls and forcing Plum’s defenders to scramble early, creating four set pieces within the first 10 minutes of the match, while also sending a few shots at Plum keeper Owen Zalewski.

Plum held its ground defensively early in the match, and when West Allegheny tried to possess it out of the back, they came out with a high press.

As the match evolved, Plum started to exercise more patience, playing it side-to-side rather than settling for playing long balls, and started to create some opportunities in the final third by extending possession and using the width to send a few dangerous crosses, putting pressure on West A’s keeper Jared Gola.

Still, as Plum tried to keep the ball, West Allegheny looked to seize on the counter and quick strike opportunities.

“We’re a younger team. We have freshman, sophomores playing, so we have to possess the ball,” Rafal Kolankowski, Plum’s head coach explained, “We’re not going to get into a track race with West A. They’re all seniors. Big boys. We had to keep the ball. Be patient. Look for opportunities. Which, at times, we did very well.”

In the 22nd minute, West Allegheny’s Keegan Amos nearly redirected a ball played toward the left post into goal, but a great save by Zalewski kept the match scoreless.

After another Plum advance was cleared, West Allegheny stormed forward with Johnny Dragisich showing off some fancy footwork on the left edge of the box, then sent a low blistering shot toward into a tight spot at the near post, which was punched away by Zalewski.

This set up West Allegheny’s fifth corner of the match.

This time they made it count in the 25th minute.

Joey Cosnek was there on the back post to get past a pair of Plum defenders to head it in. Dragisich provided the service to earn the assist on the corner.

Unlike the first time these teams played on the opening weekend, when West Allegheny blitzed Plum, pummling on numerous mistakes en route to a 7-1 victory, a more resilient response came from Plum this time around.

“They have great players,” Amos said of Plum. “What happened in the beginning of the year, doesn’t matter when you come into the playoffs.”

The Mustangs pushed forward and continued to bring pressure from the wide spaces the Indians were conceding, and in doing so, found a golden opportunity to level the match in the 28th minute, after a penalty was called on West Allegheny for a hard shove in the box as a cross sailed over the box.

West Allegheny’s goalkeeper Jared Gola was up to the task though, stopping Plum’s senior midfielder’s Luke Kolankowski’s penalty kick attempt headed just inside the left post.

“Huge,” Amos exclaimed. “He came up big there. He practices them all the time against his own guys.”

“Sometimes that’s the way it goes,” the elder Kolankowski acknowledged. “That’s the first one he’s missed in his career, and just happens to be in the playoffs. If we score at that point, it changes everything.”

Despite trailing 1-0, and missing out on the penalty chances, the Mustangs headed into the break as a confident group.

The second half began with Plum once again controlling possession for long stretches, putting the onus on West A to chase the game a bit more.

Finally, in the 67th minute, the Mustangs struck back.

Kolankowski, named to the All-State team last week, beat Gola to a ball that straddled along the left edge of the box. As Gola arrived, he made contact with Kolankowski.

The center official sprinted into the box to signal for a penalty kick.

This time, Lucas Pittman connected on the spot kick to level the contest at 1-1 in the 67th minute.

With the match up for grabs with 13 minutes left, neither side tightened up.

Instead what followed was a pretty open-ended, back and forth pace going into the final 10 minutes of regulation.

And that’s when Will Douglas accelerated into the box, forcing a pair of Plum defenders to try to cut him off, but in the process, the drew enough contact in the eyes of the official for the third penalty in the box of the match to be called.

Dragisich took the shot himself, with a perfect placement past Zalewski to give the Indians a 2-1 lead in the 73rd minute.

Plum pushed for a late equalizer, but couldn’t find another quality chance against the top ranked team in the Commonwealth.

“They spanked us, 7-1 (in September), but we came back. We played very well,” the elder Kolankowski said. “I liked the way we played. We did everything we worked on. We had plenty of the chances. It’s playoff time, and it just didn’t go our way. Credit to them. We’ll get a crack at (states) on Wednesday, and hopefully good things happen to us.”

Plum will have a short turnaround, as they’ll face section rival Franklin Regional on Wednesday in the PIAA Play-In game (site/time TBD) for a right to advance to the state tournament.

West Allegheny, now boasting a 21-0, perfect record, have one more big step to take in their quest to win their first WPIAL title since 2014 when they’ll meet Class 3A No. 2 Hampton, had to dig down to find a way to survive and advance.

“I think we were outplayed a little bit,” Amos acknowledged. “But we’ll take a stinky W any day.”

Post Match with West Allegheny’s Kevin Amos

Post Match with Plum’s Raf Kolankowski 

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).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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