PHOENIXVILLE >> The Pottsgrove boys soccer team wasn’t out to be a spoiler.
It just happened to be one Friday.
With Phoenixville facing a must-win situation to qualify for the final spot in the Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four against the Frontier Division-leading Falcons, a loose and confident Pottsgrove team hit for four goals in the first 33 minutes en route to a 4-1 victory that denied the Phantoms at Washington Field.
“We weren’t here to knock anyone out; it’s only about making sure we win,” midfielder Tyler Rolando said. “We came in thinking we have playoffs coming up so we wanted to get in form now and make sure we keep it through playoffs. So we wanted to make sure we started off strong now and carry it through.”
Pottsgrove, which went 10-0 in the Frontier and 11-1-1 in the PAC, earned the No. 2 seed for next Tuesday’s PAC Final Four at Owen J. Roberts. It will face No. 3 seed OJR at 7 p.m. on Wildcat North. The other semifinal will feature No. 4 Boyertown (6-4, 9-4) – the beneficiary of Friday’s result which left Phoenixville at 7-2-1, 8-4-1 – and Liberty champion Spring-Ford (9-1, 11-1-1) at 7 p.m. in the stadium.
With back-to-back games Thursday and Friday against Upper Merion (2-2 draw) and Pottsgrove, it would have been understandable for Phoenixville to be feeling the pressure.
“I think there was a healthy pressure and stress. It’s a big game and they knew it’s a big game,” Phoenixville coach Mike Cesarski said. “I don’t think it was a stretch to say that it was a tight game the first time we played Pottsgrove (2-0 Falcons). For whatever reason we just were not ourselves in the first half.”
Rolando triggered the run in the 10th minute on an excellent header from a Nick Makoid cross. What followed were goals by Nate Yuchimiuk and Germann Larmond, whose carving run in the 33rd minute created a Phoenixville own goal and 4-0 lead to Pottsgrove.
The Falcons treated Friday like the playoffs started early.
“Before the game Wit (coach Jay Witkowski) made us know it was kind of do-or-die even though we were in regardless,” Larmond said. “We just came here and followed through with our plan.”
Phil Meszaros pulled one back for the Phantoms with 1:40 until halftime. They couldn’t muster more in the second half though despite a spirited effort, Pottsgrove uninterested in allowing any question of its place as the Frontier’s finest.
Phoenixville fell victim to the PAC’s new playoff format that qualifies the division champions and two wild-card teams for the Final Four. In past years the top two teams from each division would qualify.
“The expectation was to make the Final Four, that was one of our goals,” Cesarski said. “They changed the dynamic of how teams make the Final Four so I think that played into things. Before I started (as head coach) it was a thing that was hit or miss for this program (to make the Final Four). We’ve done it the last couple years, this year it didn’t happen.
“We knew we would need to take one of those Pottsgrove games and we didn’t do it so we have only ourselves to blame.”
The Falcons’ front line was in rhythm from the start with Larmond and Yuchimiuk in the flow while getting support from midfielders Rolando, Will Kaiser and Travis Spotts. They held the shots on goal advantage 7-5.
“Me and Nate got going really quick. It normally takes us into the second half,” Larmond said. “Right off the tap we were right at them. Nate scored first and then I was right after.”
It was the first time Phoenixville has allowed four goals in a game this season. The Phantoms’ defensive unit led by goalkeeper Mitchell Coll and defenders Danny Jackson, Clay Kopko, Sean O’Neal and Blake Ericksen has been reliable all season.
“I’ve been really happy defensively. Today was an exception,” Cesarski said. “That’s been the part of our team that I’ve been most consistently happy with … but not today.”
Pottsgrove and Phoenixville are both expected to qualify for the newly-aligned District 1 Class AAA playoffs.
The Falcons were No. 4 in the power rankings entering the week, the Phantoms No. 7.
It will be old hat for Pottsgrove, which won the District 1-AA title last season. Not so for Phoenixville.
“I’m excited because we haven’t made district playoffs before (in my tenure),” the Phantoms’ third-year coach said. “If we’re going to do anything – I think we’re sitting in a place where we’re OK for districts – you’re going to play a team the level of Pottsgrove or Bishop Shanahan (No. 2) or Interboro (No. 3). They know what to expect the level to be when we get to those district playoff games.”
Before the Falcons turn their focus to districts, they have a chance to finally get over the hump and reach the PAC championship game, a feat that’s evaded them every season, even on the two occasions they went on to win District 1-AA.
“We played Owen J. the first game and I felt like we were the better team,” Larmond said. “I think Tuesday night we’re going to be focused, settled down and really put together one of our best games to try to break through that hurdle and get through to that final game.”
“We know it’s not a walk in the park so we’re going to go right at it from the start. We’re doing well right now so I’m excited for it,” Rolando said.