GIBSONIA, Pa. — The same Pine-Richland boys side that was stymied by one of the premier teams in West Virginia 24 hours earlier took command of its first match against WPIAL competition in 2023.
The Rams manufactured offense early and late in the first half, earning goals from junior defensive midfielder Brady Baker and senior forward Ethan Wygant in a 2-0 result over Class 3A North Catholic in the 25th annual JRK Memorial Classic at Pine-Richland High School Saturday night. It was their first win since capturing the program’s first WPIAL Class 4A title last November.
North Catholic was reeling after a 10-man loss to two-time Class 1A champ Winchester Thurston at the Ram Cage, the auxiliary field next to Pine-Richland Stadium. The Trojans were forced to play without starting forward and co-captain Ryan Shantz, who was issued a red card Friday.
New head coach Scott Schlegel tried fighting fire with fire tactically, but his counterpart, Jordan Wiegand, deployed a 4-3-3 and a high press that put Pine-Richland in control.
“This weekend always helps us figure out a lot about ourselves. We’re trying to form our own identity,” said Wiegand. “Some years, it’s an easy transition right into it, and sometimes it takes a little more work.
“We were able to dictate the play, which is something we missed out on early on against Wheeling [Park]. We put some pieces together, some nice passing combinations, and we put a little more pressure on them.”
It didn’t take long for Pine-Richland’s lunch pail attack to catch North Catholic in disarray. Drew Schedlbauer left the six-yard box to make a save in the 7th minute, and the Rams peppered the Trojans’ backline with rebounds until Baker followed up and slotted the ball between defenders with the junior keeper out of position.
With Shantz absent, Schlegel gave his minutes to freshman Arthur Mendonca. Mendonca’s free kick from over 30 yards down the middle, which sailed just over the bar and the outstretched hand of senior netminder Cadan Bennett, was the most dangerous shot North Catholic could muster before halftime.
On separate occasions, the Trojans did make threatening runs down the right wing. However, freshman defenseman Landon Brown, making his first starting XI as a varsity member, stood his ground and was well supported by versatile Sam Larsen, as the Rams kept their attack off target.
In the 36th minute, a 30-yard missile from Mark Cashman on the right side struck the woodwork above a leaping Schedlbauer. Wygant took advantage of another juicy rebound, settling the ball down and ripping it past him from deep on the wing to double Pine-Richland’s advantage.
“I honestly thought it went in, at first. Just seeing that rebound go over the first defender’s head, I was just crashing the net at the right time,” Wygant said.
Once again, the Trojans tried to mirror the home team strategically in the second half, getting their defense involved in the offense. Towering center back Dylan Scheel made some overlapping runs, and Schlegel schemed to take advantage of the senior co-captain’s size on set pieces.
Scheel’s cranial redirection of a 40-yard free kick that was nodded directly into the stomach of a well positioned Bennett was North Catholic’s only shot on target after the break.
The Rams tasted victory in perhaps the most staggering edition of its home tournament to date. Including themselves, the 2023 JRK Classic featured three of the four reigning boys’ soccer district champions (Moon-3A, Winchester Thurston-1A), the West Virginia panhandle champs and the top independent program in Pennsylvania, The Kiski School. Eight of the ten WPIAL participants, including the Trojans, were playoff teams last year.
“Tonight we were able to work the ball around a lot better, and we were definitely better in the midfield than we were last night,” said Wygant. “We kept our heads down a lot better…no one played a bad game, and goals just came through when they needed to.”
Now Pine-Richland gears up for the daunting, and, in its case, unprecedented, task of a title defense in ruthless 4A-Sec. 1, which includes this week’s opponents: Butler, on the road, Tuesday night, and arch-rival North Allegheny at home Thursday.
North Catholic visits Armstrong Tuesday to begin 3A-Sec. 1 play, which continues Sept. 5 at Mars before the team finally returns to J.C. Stone Field Sept. 7 to face section rival Indiana.
“It’s never easy getting into our section [schedule], especially this time around,” said Wiegand, “but we’ve just got to learn from everything we were able to do over the weekend, and hopefully we can put together the best recipe for going out to Butler.”