Like many squads, Riverside High School's boys soccer team prefers to play with the lead.
So when the Panthers found themselves trailing, 1-0, at halftime to Greensburg Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class A championship game last Saturday night at Baldwin, coach Ben Huth knew an adjustment was essential.
"We basically were sending one player in against four defenders," Huth said of the first-half strategy that left his team trailing the Centurions. "So we switched from a 5-4-1 [five defenders, four midfielders and one forward] to a 4-4-2, that sometimes morphed into a 4-3-3. The way we'd been playing in the first half, we were back on our heels."
The shift helped the Panthers tie the game in the second half. Riverside went on to win the game, 2-1, on Austin Ridgley's free kick with 6:44 left in the second overtime.
Crucial to that adjustment was Ridgley, a senior, being asked to move between the midfield and forward areas.
"That gave us three attackers, and we still were able to have a solid presence defensively and in the midfield," Huth said.
With more players moving toward the goal, the Panthers were able to even the game at 1-1 with 32:47 left in regulation when Anthony Meneice headed in Jared Harden's free kick.
The game remained tied through the end of regulation and through the first 15-minute overtime. The game appeared to be headed toward penalty kicks until Ridgley's 20-yard free kick sailed over three Centurions defenders, skimmed the fingertips of goalie David Kossol and flew into the net for the winning score with 6:44 left in the second overtime.
Riverside (16-4-1) chalked up more postseason success when the Panthers defeated District 9 champion Brockway, 2-1, Tuesday night in a first-round PIAA Class A game at Hampton.
Next up for the Panthers is a match against WPIAL third-place finisher Sewickley Academy (19-1-1).
All of Riverside's four victories in the WPIAL tournament were by one-goal margins. And the 2-1 victories against Serra Catholic and Greensburg Central Catholic in the semifinals and the finals were come-from-behind efforts.
"We were down 1-0 in both of those games," Huth said. "In the [regular season], we had some overtime wins and a lot of one-goal wins. I think that prepared us for the tournaments."
Huth's synopsis was correct. Prior to the WPIAL tournament, Riverside won four games by one-goal margins and lost one in a similar scenario. Since opening losses to Deer Lakes, 3-1, and Sewickley, 3-0, the Panthers have gone 17-2-1. Their last loss was a 2-0 non-section setback to Seton-LaSalle on Oct. 2, and Huth said that loss was a wake-up call for the Panthers.
"Coming out of the Seton-LaSalle game, we thought that was a game we should have won," Huth said. "We weren't outplayed, but we were outscored. We moved forward at that point, and this team showed that heart and desire can make a big difference."
He also believes the relatively close games the Panthers have played this season could help during the PIAA segment of postseason play.
"I've looked at some of the other district tournaments, and I've seen some 10-0 games and some 6-0 games," he said. "I don't know if that means the caliber of those [victorious] teams is really good. But in our round of 16, there were a lot of overtime wins and one-goal games. The competition is very stiff in the WPIAL, and we'll be prepared for the state tournament because of that."