Avonworth shuts out Greensburg Central Catholic boys soccer in PIAA semifinals
Avonworth coach Tom Angell is a big fan of dark chocolate. Standout senior Sam Guzzo likes Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and goalkeeper Tim Stewart likes it all and will eat whatever.
Nevertheless, Guzzo was sweet as milk chocolate for the Antelopes. The attacker took possession on a crossing pass, dodged a few players and finished with a toe poke to beat Greensburg Central Catholic goalkeeper Patrick Brewer for the winner as WPIAL Class A champion Avonworth knocked off the Centurions, 1-0, in a rematch of the WPIAL title game and advanced to the PIAA state title game for the first time in school history.
“Our team knew that we could win this game today,” Angell. “We felt that we could get scoring chances offensively. And, frankly, they’re a different team without (Luke) Mort.”
Avonworth (23-0-1) advances to play District 4 champ Millville (21-2) at 1:30 Friday at Hershey Park Stadium. Millvale downed District 1 champ Faith Christian, 3-0, to advance.
“I think the first half was a little slow, and we gave up that goal,” GCC coach Tyler Solis said. “It was always going to be tough once we gave up that goal, without having the firepower as we’re accustomed to.”
With Mort sidelined by an injury, Greensburg Central Catholic (19-3) didn’t look the same on offense. Once Guzzo scored with 23 minutes, 1 second remaining in the first half, the Antelopes dictated the pace of play in a physical first half.
Junior Nathan Ward had a couple of quality shots in the first half. He set up for a free kick and knocked it off of the crossbar and out of play from 20 yards at around the midway point of the half.
“We get caught out of this rhythm, and it seemed like in the first half we couldn’t get clicking. Sometimes you don’t get second chances, and they’re a good team,” Solis said. “They weren’t letting us back into the game.”
Ward ended the first half on a yellow card after colliding with Guzzo along the sidelines.
“This is the World Series or the Super Bowl for these kids, and they’re playing with a lot of emotion,” Angell said.
Unlike the WPIAL championship match, the Avonworth coach took a different approach with his team leading going into the second half. The Antelopes kept attacking.
“I was really proud of how we played in the second half,” Angell said. “That’s what we wanted to do, and we didn’t want to sit back for 40 minutes and let them take shots.”
That’s what the ‘Lopes did at Highmark, and it opened up opportunities of the Centurions shooters. With Avonworth not dropping players back on the defensive end, the second half belonged to Stewart. Injured in the final seconds of regulation in the WPIAL championship match, Stewart took the best shots Greensburg Central Catholic could muster and turned them all away.
Stewart finished with 11 saves. Brewer had five saves for the Centurions.
“I’m blessed to be in this type of position right now for my team,” said Stewart. “I’m just so thankful and a great fulfilling moment.”
Stewart was put to work in the final 10 minutes as the Centurions threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Avonworth keeper. With 1:41 remaining, Stewart rushed out of his box to stop GCC’s Ethan Boyle and took a shot to the stomach and covered it up.
The rush to defend Boyle was a gamble. There were no ‘Lopes behind Stewart to defend against a bad bounce. It was the Centurions’ final scoring threat of the game.
“Surprising that we still had a good chance there at the end with 2 minutes left,” Solis said. “This group of guys has gone a long way. We gave it what we had, and, unfortunately, you come up short sometimes.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.