West/North Xtra: Sewickley savors its return to top

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Its accomplishments over the past three seasons include 39 regular-season wins, 13 postseason wins, 2 section titles and 1 undefeated season and on Saturday the Sewickley Academy boys soccer team added a crowning jewel, a WPIAL championship.

After claiming five WPIAL titles from 1998 to 2007, the Panthers were shut out of WPIAL gold hardware for five years.

The five years can hardly be considered a drought but at a program with five WPIAL crowns, five years could seem like an eternity to some.

The Panthers finally brought a sixth championship home with a 3-0 win against Beaver County Christian School in the WPIAL Class A title game Saturday afternoon at Highmark Stadium.

The Panthers (18-3) began the PIAA playoffs Tuesday with a 5-1 victory against Bishop McCort of Johnstown.

The juniors and seniors on the team came close to winning those elusive titles multiple times. In 2011 Sewickley Academy went undefeated during the regular season and reached the WPIAL and PIAA semifinals. Last season the Panthers reached the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA championship game but both games resulted in one-goal losses.

After losing in the WPIAL semifinals last year, Sewickley Academy reeled off four consecutive wins in 11 days to reach Hersheypark Stadium and the PIAA final. The Panthers would fall, 1-0, to Mountain View but the run served as a springboard into this season.

The WPIAL title matchup was a Class A Section 5 showdown. Of the six WPIAL championship games played this year between boys and girls, five of the six were rematches of section rivals. And the results of the regular-season meetings were not necessarily a reflection of what would happen in the title game.

In the WPIAL Class A girls championship game and WPIAL Class AAA boys championship game, the team that went 2-0 in the regular season lost in the WPIAL final.

Sewickley Academy swept Beaver County Christian in the regular season, outscoring its section rival, 7-0. The Panthers would prove that while it may be difficult to beat a good team three times in one season, it is possible.

"I thought it was a great game between two section foes," Sewickley Academy coach Jim Boone said. "It was very competitive. Beaver County Christian is well coached. The nice thing [about playing a team multiple times in the same season] is you know their strengths and weaknesses ... but they also know your strengths and weaknesses."

The Panthers struck for two goals in the first 10 minutes when senior defender Jack Matten scored on a rebound off a free kick from senior midfielder Steve Munn and senior forward Anthony Stinson added a second goal. Sewickley Academy took a 3-0 lead into the locker room after an "own goal" and the Panthers were well on their way to a sixth WPIAL championship.

There are 13 seniors on the Sewickley Academy team.

"It means a lot to [the seniors]," Boone said. "It is very rewarding, especially after losing in the state finals last year. They reached the goals they set, not as individuals but as a team. Winning WPIALs has been their goal since I can remember."

Boone is in his second season as head coach and fifth year overall with the program. Munn and senior forward J.P. Bowell were two of the top goal scorers in the area and key cogs in the Panthers offensive attack. Both have started for the past four seasons.

"[Bowell and Munn] feed off each other," Boone said. "If they are not on the ball, they are making some good runs to get open and receive and pass and take a shot and get back and be in defensive position."

In the WPIAL playoffs Sewickley Academy was the top seed and the only team to receive a first-round bye. It had a quick wakeup call in the WPIAL quarterfinals when it held off No. 9 Riverview, 2-1. They rebounded to blast No. 4 Serra Catholic, 6-0, in the WPIAL semifinals.

"Knowing what we had coming back from last year, we had a good feeling," Boone said. "If we played up to our ability, we had a chance. We just did what we needed to do and took care of business."

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