Heartache has become a yearly ailment for the Central Catholic High School boys soccer team.
For the sixth consecutive season, the Vikings witnessed their postseason hopes abruptly end with a one-goal loss during the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.
Last week against Bethel Park, Central Catholic (14-4-1) was eliminated in the quarterfinals after dropping a 2-1 overtime loss against the Black Hawks.
Going back to 2008, the Vikings lost to Peters Township, 1-0, in the first round. The following year, Shaler Area beat them, 2-1, in overtime. In 2010, they took Peters Township to two overtimes in the Class AAA championship game but lost, 1-0. In 2011, they met Peters Township in the semifinals and lost to the Indians in a shootout, 1-0.
Last year, Central Catholic was eliminated in the first round following a 1-0 defeat against Canon-McMillan.
"You never get used to losing those games," said Vikings coach Claudio Morini, who completed his 15th season leading Central Catholic. "It hurts more because of those seniors who have to end their season and careers like that. You feel for them. I would bet every high school coach feels the same way.
"When you're so close to the end and the big show [championship game] and lose because of a mistake, it's just heartbreaking."
The Vikings went 11-1 in Section 3-AAA and split the section crown with Fox Chapel Area. They entered the Class AAA bracket as the No. 4 seed and beat Ringgold, 1-0, thanks to a goal by junior midfielder Matt O'Donnell.
Against fifth-seeded Bethel Park, junior forward Ryan Sproule scored Central's lone goal during the 75th minute.
"It was an odd game only because we felt that our game was dominant," Morini said. "We pretty much missed 10 to 12 shots on goal. We ended up paying for our mistakes.
"The better team ended up winning. That's a very well-coached team."
Sproule led the Vikings in scoring during the regular season with 17 goals.
"I really didn't expect that from him this season," Morini said. "In the beginning of the year, he was playing 10 minutes here or 10 minutes there. One day, he just started going and never stopped.
"He believed in himself and we believed in him."
Morini, however, quickly noted his team was far from a one-man show, offensively. He also credited the efforts from junior midfielders O'Donnell, Austin Palmer and Jarrod McDowell as well as senior midfielder Justin Beiriger and senior defenders Patrick Sproule and Zane Stiles.
"In the past I would talk about one guy who had a lot of goals, but that wasn't the case this year," Morini said. "We had six or seven guys who consistently scored goals.
"Those guys had about seven goals each, so we had multiple players score. That's encouraging, especially when thinking most of them will be back next year."
Central Catholic scored a total of 66 goals and surrendered just 29 this season. Sophomore goalkeepers Anthony Tirone and Oscar Marroquin split time in net and helped the Vikings post 10 shutout victories.
After suffering a 3-0 non-league loss against LaSalle College High School of Philadelphia on Sept. 3, Central Catholic won nine consecutive matches before losing its last two regular-season matches against Fox Chapel and Upper St. Clair, respectively. Upper St. Clair is the top-ranked Class AAA boys team in both the WPIAL and PIAA.
"Honestly, we really did have a good year," Morini said. "You come into every year with hope, but I don't thing we expected to play as well as we did. We had a lot of wins there and then we lost to some really good teams like Upper St. Clair.
"We were playing so well until we had one bad night at Fox Chapel. We had beaten them earlier in the season at our place. I guess we were a little relaxed and they wanted it more."
Morini, however, expects to welcome back enough returning starters to make another run toward the playoffs again next season.
"Next year, we'll come back and try again," he said. "We're losing only three seniors who started and we're bringing back about 10 guys who will be seniors. Most of them have been playing for us since they were freshmen.
"It's hard to predict anything, but we should do well again."