The #1 seeded South Park Eagles showed exactly why they entered the Class 2A playoffs as the team to beat as they dispatched the Avonworth Antelopes in convincing fashion to set up a clash against #2 Quaker Valley for all the marbles.
Having come into the playoffs as the highest-ranked team, it’s always possible that pressure can play it’s part with the weight of expectations on your shoulders, but head coach Jon Cantwell was eager to set the record straight after the game, noting that he and the team felt nothing of the sort heading into tonight’s clash:
“I actually think the opposite. I think we had some pressure last year, we learned a lot losing in the semi-finals a year ago… that was the message the whole postseason, don’t change how we play. We went a goal down here tonight, we went a goal down the round before… we needed some adversity, and I was really proud of the boys, they didn’t change how we play.”
Heading into the final they face a very tough test in Quaker Valley, who have scored 20 goals this postseason, but Cantwell felt confident that his team would be ready to stand up to the challenge:
“They look like, as always, they gave three great forwards, they rotate them in, so they’re always fresh and good 1v1 and they combine well. We’re just going to have to be solid in our defensive shape and take the moments that we have.”
How it happened
The Antelopes got the first goal of the game after a fairly even first ten minutes, Abdul Kaijie feeding the ball around the corner for Rowan Carmichael, who got to the ball just ahead of goalkeeper Cooper Hochendoner and poked the ball around him before slotting home. South Park though fought right back, and after having an effort cleared off the line managed to bring themselves level after Cameron Loveland’s effort took a massive deflection through a pile of bodies in the box, wrongfooting Alexander Rowe and bringing the scores level.
South Park turned the screw after that, backed by a boisterous support that made the 10-mile journey to Dormont, and had the lead five minutes later through Kaiden Fischer, picking up his own rebound after Carter Bedard had blocked the initial effort before curling it into the far corner past a despairing Rowe.
The Eagles extended their lead ten minutes later as Ryan Weslowski fired home from 25 yards out off the underside of the crossbar with Rowe helpless to stop it. Rowe played a part in the fourth goal for South Park, as he dropped a long free kick on his goalline which allowed Aiden Battista to pounce and push the lead to 4-1 entering the half.
After the flurry of activity that was the first half, the second was a much more even affair with the game predominantly played in the middle of the field as Avonworth tried desperately to get back into the game but were constantly met by a very well-disciplined South Park backline.
Restricted in open play, the Antelopes had to rely on a set piece to get their next goal, captain Elijah Whalen heading home Nathan Kline’s header at the back post to set up a potentially tense last 20 minutes for South Park.
However, it was mostly one-way traffic in the favour of the Eagles in the final stages as they tried to put the game away, but couldn’t make the connection in the final third as they would have to settle for just the four goals to seal their spot in the final.
11 – Abdul Kaijie fires a free kick over the bar from 25 yards out
13 – Rowen Carmichael puts the Antelopes ahead after an impressive through ball from Abdul Kaijie
18 – Carter Berard clears the ball off the line after Jack Ozimek rounded Alexander Rowe
19 – Cameron Loveland’s effort takes a massive deflection off Jack Ozimek and rolls past Alexander Rowe to level scores
20 – Cameron Loveland forces Alexander Rowe into a fine save to push the ball over the bar
23 – Kaiden Fischer curls home left-footed on the rebound after Carter Bedard’s block
33 – Ryan Wesolowski scores from 25 yards off the underside of the bar
36 – Jack Ozimek sees his effort inside the box blocked by three Avonworth defenders
36 – Aiden Battista takes advantage of Alexander Rowe’s mistake to score from a yard out
46 – Jack Ozimek fires right at Alexander Rowe after a lung-busting run from the halfway line
59 – Elijah Whalen heads home Nathan Kline’s corner to reduce the deficit
62 – Benjamin Hayes’ shot from outside the box deflects over the bar
65 – Aidan Osekowski sent off after bringing down Jack Ozimek when he was through on goal