South Xtra: South Park's Minda sets bar very high

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South Park juniors Justin Minda and Brandon Walbert, the driving forces behind the Eagles' dynamic offense, have played together just about as long as they can remember.

Look for one on a Saturday night and the other's likely not too far away. But pay attention to either for just a little too long on match day and the other's likely to burn you.

"I have better chemistry with Brandon than anyone I've played with my entire life," Minda said.

It's that level of understanding that aided Minda in scoring a WPIAL-best 40 goals during the regular season. More than half were assisted by Walbert, a 15-goal scorer himself.

Their contributions were key in another stellar regular-season campaign for South Park, one in which the Eagles captured their fifth consecutive Section 3-AA title and beat every Class AA opponent they faced while going 17-1 in the regular season. Their only loss came at the hands of perennial Class AAA powerhouse Peters Township.

The Eagles (19-2) lost to South Fayette, 1-0, in the WPIAL semifinals Monday, and were scheduled to play Shady Side Academy Wednesday night in the third-place consolation game. The winner of that advances to the PIAA tournament.

By looks and background, Minda, a 5-foot-8 junior, doesn't fit the archetype for a dynamic goal-scorer. An outside midfielder all of his life, he was first deployed up top in 2012. But by the end of the season, there he was with 20 goals to his name.

"He's tremendous with the ball at his feet," South Park coach Jon Cantwell said. "He has a great first touch and the ability to dribble and change speed and direction at pace. He's as good as anyone at doing that; he's very elusive to try to stay with."

He went from strength-to-strength this year, doubling that goal-tally and refining his skills as a forward. While his nerves and finishing have improved, the main change has been his ability to recognize when best to take on defenders and when to lay the ball off and let a teammate play him in.

"I'd definitely say he's developed into a great forward," Walbert said. "He's making better and better runs off the ball. I'd say his movement is one of his biggest strengths. He moves around a lot and gets open."

That's where Walbert, a skilled passer, comes into play.

"He's got a good 'partner in crime' in Brandon," Cantwell said. "They've probably played together since they were 5 or 6."

Walbert estimates he's had in the range of 25 to 27 assists this year, with about 20 coming via goals from Minda.

"He knows where I'm going on every run," Minda said. "When he gets the ball, he already knows to look for me."

Walbert feels, at this point, he's pretty much acting on instinct.

"It's really second nature playing with each other," Walbert said.

Cantwell said he's never before had a player during his 12-year tenure at South Park reach 40 goals.

Normally, starters are rotated out once the typically strong Eagles have put together a comfortable lead, he said.

The thing with Minda has been that he just scores too fast to pull before he's scored two, three, or more goals.

"There were a number of games where he scored the first three or four goals for us," Cantwell said.

"He wasn't scoring any of those goals late in [blowout] games by any means."

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