Avonworth Boys Soccer Head Coach Tom Angell has been at the helm since 2006, as part of many teams that have had successes and failures, including winning a WPIAL title and playing in a PIAA Final, but following his team’s 4-1 win in the WPIAL Boys Class 2A Quarterfinal round, beating Belle Vernon, the veteran coach sang quite high praise for his team’s ability to dictate terms of a high stakes playoff match.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and this is the best group of combination midfield, and offense, where we can just combine, and possess the ball for long stretches,” Angell said.
Belle Vernon’s Trevor Kovatch came into the match as the second leading goal scorer in WPIAL, with 47 goals this season, but he didn’t get much of a chance to do enough on the ball, simply because Avonworth completely dominated the possession battle.
In addition, the ‘Lopes got off to a hot start, with a pair of goals coming in the first 15 minutes.
It took five minutes for sophomore Nathan Kline to put Avonworth on top, sending a bending shot past the outstretched arms of BVA’s goalkeeper Bryce Burkhart.
Before Belle Vernon could recover, they had to continue to chase the match, as Avonworth continued to work the ball from side-to-side, and through the middle of the field, with excellent work by its midfielders, and forward Abdul Basit stretching defenders, while all-WPIAL selections Rowan Carmicheal and Eli Whalen were doing the dirty work winning balls and controlling tempo.
In the 15th minute, Basit got on the end of a well-struck cross, took a soft touch, then turned toward goal to put the home side up, 2-0.
Just like that, Belle Vernon were not only chasing possession, but they were in very unfamiliar territory, trailing by more than a goal.
“Our defense wasn’t prepared for their speed. But, not only were they fast, but they creative in their runs. They switched with what shoulder they attacked. They turned our guys around a couple of times,” Belle Vernon Head Coach Alan Yeschenko said.
“They’re a very good team.”
Avonworth’s attack though, despite still staying on the front foot, relegated to settling for too many shots from distance and tough angles for the remainder of the first half, and into the early stages of the second half.
With the match remaining a two-goal lead, which Angell expressed never being a comfortable spot for any soccer coach, his team finally exercised a little more patience, and got back to being creative in their runs to put the game away for good.
That came when Kline, already sitting on a goal, went into playmaking mode in the 60th minute, delivering a perfectly played ball behind the last defender, catching speedy Basit in stride on the right side, and in perfect position to sneak a low, turf-burner for a 3-0 lead.
“They just have unlimited options,” Yeschenko said, “once they get the ball in the middle.”
With Belle Vernon reeling, Kline followed up that goal, just 25 seconds later, with a strike from the edge of the box that further put the game out of reach.
To their credit, Belle Vernon kept fighting, and finally, after a few attempts to get forward, using the width, and trying to play behind Avonworth’s back line, their scoring connection got into the box and did some damage.
That came in the 72nd minute, when Kovatch delivered a shot from close range, thanks to a nice feed from Brandon Yeschenko — the ricocheted off the back of an Avonworth defender into goal. Technically it should be scored as an own goal, but it appeared that everyone involved in the match were crediting Kovatch for his 86th career tally.
Avonworth moves on to the Class 2A Semifinal Round, where they’ll face No. 1 Seed South Park, who advanced by pulling ahead of its Section rival, Keystone Oaks with a pair of late second half goals.
Yeschenko went so far as to say that Avonworth sports the best midfield he’s seen this year.
“Yeah, for sure, there’s nobody close,” Yeschenko remarked.
“The creativity up-top is a big part of it. Once the midfielders receive the ball, they have unlimited options. I think they have a really good chance against anyone.”
Angell and the Antelopes know South Park all too well — as the two schools were section foes for some time, and continue to play annually in non-section matches.
“We both have teams that played skilled, but hard and clean,” Angell said of his next round opponent, who won their regular season meeting, 2-1.
“We played them earlier this year. Those Saturday, non-section games, sometimes can be odd. Neither team was at full strength. We had a few players missing, but I know them well enough to know that they weren’t at their best either. I am sure that both teams will be ready to go.”
Post Match Interviews (Coaches Dan Angell – Avonworth & Alan Yeschenko – Belle Vernon)