Serra Catholic dropped its final two games of the regular season last year and backed its way into the WPIAL playoffs as a No. 14 seed.
The Eagles playoff run was over just as it was getting started with a 4-1 loss on the road at No. 3 Neshannock.
This year the shoe is on the other foot, Serra rode an eight-game unbeaten streak into the postseason and earned a No. 3 seed where it made quick work of No. 14 Beth-Center, 5-0, on Monday night at Peters Township.
"We had high expectations last year, too. I'm not exactly sure what happened," Serra coach Don Sabol said. "I credit our success this year to the fact we are experienced."
The Eagles earned the No. 3 seed by finishing the regular season 13-2-1 and sharing the Section 1-A title with Greensburg Central Catholic.
After dropping an early 2-1 decision to the Centurions, the Eagles had another shot at their section rivals as well as a chance to share the section title with a tie because Greensburg Central had lost earlier in the season to South Allegheny.
In the second-to-last game of the season, Serra went on the road and played Greensburg to a 2-2 tie. Both teams finished 8-1-1 and shared the section title.
"It was our goal from the beginning to win the section [title]," Sabol said. "This is a very talented team, we have a lot of talent and a lot of experience. It is almost the same team as last year with just a few changes. That extra year of experience makes a big difference."
The section title is believed to be the first in program history while the playoff win over Beth-Center is the first for Serra since 2003 when it knocked off Charleroi, 5-2, to reach the WPIAL quarterfinals where it would lose to eventual WPIAL champion Greensburg Central Catholic.
In this playoff win the Eagles jumped on Beth-Center early with two goals 16 seconds apart about 10 minutes into the contest. Serra led, 3-0, at halftime.
Senior forward Mike Mercea, the Eagles' leading scorer during the regular season with 25 goals, netted a hat trick in the playoff win. Senior central midfielder Josh Lohr and junior forward Tyler Grebur also scored goals. Grebur was second on the team with 15 regular-season goals while Lohr and junior Nick Likar controlled the central midfield.
"We controlled most of the game," Sabol said. "Looks like Beth-Center has a bright future, but this year we probably had the better team and that is the way it played out."
It was Grebur and Mercea scoring in the 2-2 tie with Greensburg Central Catholic that could be considered a season-changing moment.
"They were looking forward to it since the first game against [Greensburg Central]," Sabol said. "In the first game we felt we played them well. We are very evenly matched teams. The boys were really excited to get that section title. That was the goal from the beginning. Now they are in good spirits and loose, not tense at all."
Surprisingly, next up for Serra is not No. 6 Seton-LaSalle, but rather section rival No. 11 Winchester Thurston (12-6), who pulled off the upset of the Rebels Monday night. Serra swept the regular-season series against Winchester Thurston winning, 3-1 and 3-0, but the Eagles are taking nothing for granted.
"Everybody was thinking Seton-LaSalle would win, but we played Winchester twice. We know they are a quality team," Sabol said. "Winchester has a lot of talent and they are coached well. We have to take it very seriously, we have to play well."
The teams will meet tonight at 6 at Linton Middle School in Penn Hills with a trip to the WPIAL semifinals on the line.