WPIAL Soccer Championships: Boys title matches a familiar look

Section rivals meet in each classification

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If familiarity truly breeds contempt, there should be a palpable feeling of hatred emanating from Highmark Stadium this weekend.

The WPIAL boys soccer championship in all three classifications will be contested by section rivals who managed over the last two weeks to navigate a playoff field rife with upsets, shootouts and hard-luck losses to secure one last match for hardware and bragging rights.

Class AAA

In Class AAA, the undoubted heavyweight is defending PIAA champion Upper St. Clair.

Coach Uwe Schneider's top-seeded Panthers (19-0-1) finished the season with an undefeated record, their only flaw an early-season tie with Canon-McMillan. A 6-1 win against Bethel Park in the semifinals only served to underscore their strength.

But if any team can match the Panthers, it's Section 5-AAA rival Peters Township (16-3-2), a program far from accustomed to the underdog role. They'll meet tonight at 8:15.

This marks the seventh time in the past 11 seasons that the Indians have reached the WPIAL final. They have captured three WPIAL titles over that span.

"I think there's a lot to prove, but I think [Upper St. Clair] would tell you the same thing," Peters coach Bob Dyer said. "One game, 80 minutes to decide it. And, you know, I like where we are right now."

Though the Indians fell in both meetings with USC, they've hit a rich run of form in the playoffs, winning all three contests by shutout thanks to strong defending and reliable goalkeeping from imposing senior Max O'Hare.

Playoff victories include a 2-0 win against second-seeded Seneca Valley and a 4-0 semifinal victory against Canon-McMillan behind junior striker Nicco Mastrangelo's hat trick.

"They're a very solid team and they seem to be getting hot here in the playoffs," Panthers coach Uwe Schneider said. "I think in one game, a lot of things can happen."

In terms of sheer talent, few teams can match what USC brings to the table. Senior striker Joel Hart, an American University recruit, finished second in Class AAA with 30 goals and senior midfielder Troye Kiernan is one of the most complete players in the WPIAL.

Class AA

It's already the best season in West Allegheny's history, but one of the few opponents it hasn't been able to conquer is Section 5-AA foe South Fayette, who will supply the opposition at 5:45 p.m. Saturday.

Still undefeated at 17-0-3, the top-seeded Indians could only manage a pair of draws against the No. 3 Lions (17-2-2) in their two regular-season contests.

"In a total downpour, it almost felt like we played 100 minutes of defense in the first game," South Fayette coach Rob Eldridge said. "But that's the type of team West Allegheny is -- they bring it."

While West Allegheny's 3-4-3 formation throws a trio of skilled forwards in Collin Wurst, Cooper Amos and Mike Cummings at opponents, South Fayette has pitched 18 shutouts this season -- including one against the Indians -- and goalkeeper Alex Gedrys has yet to allow a goal in the playoffs.

"They all believe in their defensive strategy and then rely on a handful of chances to be opportunistic," West Allegheny coach Kevin Amos said. "All you need is one goal. If the other team doesn't score, you can't lose."

When the Lions are successful attacking, it's usually through the efforts of forward Brian Coyne. He'll have his hands full with West Allegheny center back Zach Graziani, one of the top defenders in the WPIAL.

It's the first appearance in the Class AA final for both teams.

Class A

Beaver County Christian School coach Steve Warden had a feeling this would be his team's year. He just may not have known how far the Eagles would go after failing to qualify for the playoffs the previous two seasons.

A mid-season change in strategy -- moving skilled seniors Scott Carson and Gib McCracken from attacking roles to defense -- buoyed No. 6 seed BCC and prompted an impressive run that has led it to its first WPIAL final.

Standing in its way is top-seeded Sewickley Academy (16-3), last year's PIAA runner-up and the owners of two previous victories against the Eagles (15-4) in the regular season, a 6-1 thrashing in their first meeting and a narrower 2-1 result in the second. Game time is 1:15 p.m. Saturday.

Behind key players such as midfielder Steve Munn and 22-goal scorer J.P. Bowell, coach Jim Boone's Panthers captured the Section 5-A title for the second year in a row.

"The first time we didn't play well -- they pounded us. The second time, it was a different game," Warden said. "My question is, 'Was that second game a fluke?'

"We expect it to be a hard-fought game. I don't expect a blowout this time."

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