South Park wins WPIAL Class AA boys soccer title
Brandon Walbert and Justin Minda made themselves household names in the WPIAL boys soccer world as underclassmen by earning accolades and putting up impressive stats.
The South Park senior duo finally starred on the WPIAL’s biggest stage Saturday night.
Walbert, a two-time All-State midfielder, and Minda, one of the region’s top scoring forwards, combined to deliver a game-winner for top-seeded South Park (22-0) in a 1-0 victory in the WPIAL Class AA finals over defending champion and No. 3 seed West Allegheny (17-4-1) at Highmark Stadium.
South Park won its first title since 2006, which also was the last time the Eagles made the finals.
“That’s the heart and soul of our team,” South Park coach Jon Cantwell said. “Brandon Walbert finding Justin Minda making that run — I’ve had the pleasure of watching it for four great years. It’s so great to see them capitalize in this moment.”
Minda scored his 39th goal of the season after receiving a through-ball from Walbert inside the 18-yard box with less than three minutes left in the first half.
“We talked about it all the time, letting (Walbert) run free in the midfield and pushing the ball through to one of their strikers,” West Allegheny coach Kevin Amos said. “It worked out. We were just unlucky tonight. That’s all.”
Other promising scoring opportunities emerged for South Park, which put 10 shots on goal. But only Minda buried one — and he quickly emphasized how much pressure the Eagles’ lack of offensive production placed on their backline.
“Our D stood on their heads tonight, and they’re the reason we won this game,” Minda said. “(West Allegheny) kind of outplayed us a little bit. They were getting some nice chances early. But after that goal, we really settled down and started playing our game.”
West Allegheny, which managed just one shot on goal, kept South Park from settling into a possession-oriented style in the second half after the Eagles moved the ball well in the first. The Indians continued to struggle with shots on goal, but they moved the ball deep into South Park’s end with efficiency.
Remarkably often, West Allegheny’s possessions ended with the Eagles winning and clearing a throw-in taken by Indians junior Cooper Amos near South Park’s 18-yard box.
“I expected they’d put us under some pressure with some direct play, and they’d try to create some set pieces and throw-ins, where they’re dangerous, and that’s exactly what they did,” Cantwell said. “I told our boys we have to win in the air, and I thought for the majority of the game, we did.”
Indians senior goalkeeper Tyler Eritz kept his team’s comeback hopes alive with strong play. With his 6-foot-7 frame, Eritz snagged several powerful Eagles shots and finished with nine saves, including six in the second half.
West Allegheny will play the District 9 champ in the first round of the PIAA tournament Tuesday at a site and time to be determined, and South Park will meet the WPIAL’s fourth-place finisher, Quaker Valley.
“Everyone is telling me you can take this team far in states, but this is still sad,” Eritz said. “We want to see (South Park) in states. We think we can take them.”