Greensburg Central Catholic High School boys soccer coach Tom Sochacki was glad that his team would have to look ahead rather than dwell on a heartbreaking 2-1 double-overtime loss to Riverside in the WPIAL Class AA championship Saturday night.
"[Getting ready for another game] is a good thing," said Sochacki, a second-year coach whose 16-5-1 Centurions defeated Bishop McCort of Johnstown, 2-1, Tuesday night in a PIAA Class A first-round game at Richland High School in Cambria County. "My kids are very team-oriented, and we do have a lot of upperclassmen. Some of them have been to the state playoffs and have played in state championships."
Moments after Saturday night's game at Baldwin ended with Riverside senior striker Austin Ridgley drilling a free kick with 6:44 left in the second overtime for the game-winner, a few players were vocal in their displeasure as both teams awaited the medals presentation.
It didn't take long, however, for order to be restored. One of the Centurions urged his teammates to settle their emotions and get ready for the postgame handshake.
That ownership of the setback did not surprise Sochacki.
"That attitude from the seniors has trickled down to the younger players," the coach said. "One of our freshmen, who starts at midfield, said something as we were getting ready to leave. He said, 'We slipped up, and we didn't give it our best effort. We need to use these silver medals as motivation.'"
Sochacki thought the Centurions had the winning play well defended.
"Our goalie [David Kossel] said he got a good look at the ball and saw it pretty well," Sochacki said. "He wanted to tip the ball over the goal, but he mistimed his jump, and the ball skimmed off his fingertips as it was going into the goal."
Greensburg Central took a 1-0 lead over Riverside with 8:08 left in the first half when senior midfielder Tyler Dunton tracked down a rebound from senior defender Devon Nguyen's free kick from 50 yards after it banged off the crossbar at the top of the goal and booted it into the net.
The Panthers evened the game when Anthony Meneice headed Jared Harden's free kick into the Centurions' goal with 32:47 left in the second half.
Sochacki believes his team still has a lot of soccer left in it this season, and he credits his seniors for not only providing vocal leadership, but stepping up on the field during practice as well as at games.
"Our seniors and our captains run our practices," he said. "It's a great thing for a coach like me having that type of leadership on this team."
The Centurions were so focused on preparing for Bishop McCort that they wanted to practice on Sunday, he said.
"I told them they had 24 hours to do whatever they needed to do to get this loss out of their system, but we weren't going to practice on Sunday," Sochacki said. "They needed a day off away from [the field] and to get ready for the next game."
Looking back on the WPIAL tournament, Sochacki thought Greensburg Central Catholic was better than the No. 4 seed it received, but he understood the committee's reasoning.
"All through the season, we were a little banged up, and we started out 1-2 with two starters out," the coach said. "But then we played [WPIAL Class AAA semifinalist] Pine-Richland at home, and we played against them really well."
Pine-Richland won that game, 1-0, but his team's effort in that game pleased Sochacki.
"We took them to double-overtime, and we lost the game on an own goal," he said. "Since that game, we've been on a roll. Confidence has never been lacking with this team."
Six of Greensburg Central's 11 seniors are starters. And while Sochacki is focused on his team's presence on the pitch for the rest of this sesaon, he looks forward to next year.
"The kids we had coming back this year were pretty good, and the returning players are going to be good next year, too," he said. "We don't rebuild at Greensburg Central; we reload.
"Whenever this season ends, the [returning] players will start getting ready for next season. We're thinking next season will be just as successful as this one."