South Xtra: Big Macs stun nemesis Upper St. Clair
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Canon-McMillan's run to the WPIAL Class AAA boys soccer title seemed to be right out of a sports movie script.
To win their first-ever WPIAL title in boys soccer, the Big Macs had to beat two perennial powers in Peters Township and Upper St. Clair, who have combined to win 13 WPIAL boys soccer titles between them and had combined to go 7-0-1 against Canon-McMillan over the past two years.
Just like a script would read, the Big Macs pulled off the back-to-back upsets, taking down Peters, 2-1, in the semifinals and then shutting down defending WPIAL champion USC, 1-0, in the finals Saturday night.
"It's the best story you could probably write for high school soccer," Canon-McMillan coach Larry Fingers said.
The Big Macs (19-4 after defeating Peters Township, 2-0, again Tuesday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs) entered the WPIAL tournament as the No. 13 seed, which may have been a little low, considering their only four losses of the regular season came against the Indians and Panthers, who were seeded No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Canon-McMillan beat No. 4 seed Central Catholic and No. 12 seed Franklin Regional, both by 1-0 scores, in the first two rounds of the WPIAL tournament.
On the way home from the victory against Franklin Regional, the team found out it would be facing Peters Township again in the semifinals. Despite having lost twice to the Indians this season, the Big Macs were thrilled.
"We were on the way home from Franklin, and when we heard we were playing [Peters], everybody started cheering," Canon-McMillan senior goalkeeper James Hathaway said. "We wanted them so bad."
Led by Hathaway's play in net and goals by Ivan Viveros and Jake Wilcox, the Big Macs beat the Indians to advance to the finals, where again Hathaway said the team was happy when it heard who it would be facing.
But it was USC that looked glad to see its section rival early in the championship match. The Panthers dominated possession early in the first half and looked to go ahead when they were awarded a penalty shot eight minutes into the game because of a Big Macs' handball in the penalty area.
But Hathaway made his first of many spectacular saves on the night, diving low to his left to deny USC's Troye Kiernan.
Later in the first half, Hathaway made a diving save on a header by Kevin Muck. Then in the second half, the senior goalkeeper also got just enough of a free kick by Wes Burdette to send it just over the crossbar.
"James Hathaway was absolutely amazing this evening," Fingers said. "The way we've been playing the last few years, he hasn't had to face a lot of action. But tonight he was lights out. Maybe the most spectacular player on the field."
While Hathaway was shutting down USC, Josh Kruczek got the goal the team needed with a little more than 14 minutes left in the first half when he rifled a shot from 25 yards away past USC goalkeeper Joe Conlon. Conlon was off his line after punching away a free kick into the box by Nathan Jacobs and couldn't get back in time before Kruczek's shot.
"For a quick second I was questioning myself on whether it was real or not," Kruczek said.