LOWER GWYNEDD >> Early last week, Wissahickon boys soccer coach Stuart Malcolm told his team he’d be happy winning two of its next three.
Awaiting the Trojans was a gauntlet of Plymouth-Whitemarsh, Upper Dublin and Hatboro-Horsham, the last one at home Monday. So the Trojans did their coach one better and swept the stretch, capped off by a high-intensity 2-1 victory over the Hatters Monday.
The chances were few and far between for Wissahickon, but tenacity in the box paid off with two second half goals.
“Upper Dublin (a 3-2 win) was a huge game and it gave us a lot of motivation,” senior striker Tom McHale said. “It’s a pretty hard schedule and our coach told us he’d be proud if we won two out of the three.”
Both teams exchanged a lot of runs up and down the field through the first half, but Wissahickon was the only side that recorded a shot in the opening 38 minutes. That was due to the Hatters being all sorts of disjointed in the box.
Whether it was taking a touch too many or not shooting, Hatboro-Horsham saw its work to get forward dissolve into a clearance or giveaway. The team’s best chance early came when Colin Bateman played in little brother Danny, who sent a shot high six minutes in.
“We created a decent amount of opportunities and didn’t do a good enough job finishing those,” Hatters coach Kyle McGrath said. “That’s a team in Wissahickon that’s been playing very well and if you don’t take care of your chances you get punished for it. That’s what happened today.”
At the same time, Wissahickon’s chances weren’t the most threatening. The Trojans had a long free kick, another curler from deep and one more distant shot saved by Hatters keeper Stephen Doney.
Wiss also put a header high off an early corner kick.
Wissahickon’s defense was strong for most of the first half but broke down just before the break. A free kick found its way to Danny Bateman in the box. The sophomore’s first shot was saved deftly by Wiss keeper Brad Schwartz but the rebound fell back to Bateman who put it home with 1:36 left in the half.
“We were in the same spot last Wednesday against P-W and this was another big game so we knew we came back before and we could do it again,” McHale said. “We got confidence off of that.”
Much like the Hatters goal, the first Wiss tally came following a free kick. The service found McHale, who had his first try stuffed by Hatters keeper Stephen Doney. It didn’t get far, finding McHale who hit a terrific volley on the second effort to tie it with 33:43 left.
Eddie Fortescue had another shot for Wiss two minutes later saved by Doney.
Defensively, the Trojans got more focused in the second half. Central defender Jacob Kaffey said the team was cognizant of the Hatters’ center midfielder who wanted to dribble the ball a lot and closed in on them.
“After the one breakdown, we knew we had to step up and make sure we didn’t have another let down,” Kaffey said. “We just tried our hardest to get in front of everything.”
The Wiss defensive effort extended all the way up the field with McHale and the other forwards and advanced midfielders tracking back to help defend. Also, the defenders were not afraid to take one for the team with Wiss blocking at least five Hatboro-Horsham shots.
The human wall maneuvers certainly didn’t help the Hatters but they also hindered themselves on offense.
“It seemed like they were trying for the perfect through ball or the perfect last play,” McGrath said. “In high school soccer usually if you put the ball on target good things are going to happen. We didn’t do that and credit to (Wissahickon) because they did.”
The equalizing goal was big for the Trojans and the go-ahead was even bigger.
Again, it was a second effort set up by McHale. The senior got a shot on goal that was stopped by Doney and this time, Jacob Cohen came crashing in to drive the ball back into the net with 6:51 left.
“We always have to try to get two guys in there because we know most of the goals we score aren’t going to be the cleanest shots,” McHale said. “If we have those guys in there, we can always put them back in.”
The Hatters threw everything forward in the last five minutes, including a free kick with two minutes left, but Wissahickon held.
The result over Upper Dublin bumped Wiss from No. 24 to No. 11 in the District I AAAA power rankings. Hatboro-Horsham was No. 10.
Wiss’ jump is the result of the team’s hard work all season, though the players know how fluid things are even in the last legs of the campaign.
“We have a pretty young team and it gives them a lot of motivation to know every game matters,” Kaffey said. “It shows them we have to play every game at our hardest.”
HATBORO-HORSHAM 1 0 – 1
WISSAHICKON 0 2 – 2
GOALS: HH – Danny Bateman 38′; W – Tom McHale 46′, Jacob Cohen (McHale) 74′.
Shots: HH – 3, W- 5, Corners; HH – 2, W – 7. saves: HH – Doney 3, W – Schwartz 1.
Top Photo: Wissahickon’s Trey Schwartz leaps to gain control of a pass in front of Hatboro-Horsham’s Nick Hatzenbeller during their game on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)