BUCKTOWN >> After a somewhat uneven Pioneer Athletic Conference regular season, the Boyertown boys soccer team decided it was time to wash the slate clean.
“We had a rough start,” senior defender Erik Recke said of a campaign that saw the Bears hovering under and around the .500 mark. “Now all we’re saying is that the season starts over in the playoffs, and all it takes is a couple of wins.”
The defending league champion Bears continued their strong down-the-stretch play Tuesday night at Owen J. Roberts, turning back Spring-Ford 2-1 in a Final Four semifinal.
Recke connected for the deciding goal off a restart in the 67th minute as Liberty Division third-place finisher Boyertown (13-6) advanced to Thursday’s championship game against Frontier Division champ Pottsgrove, back at Owen J. Roberts at 7 p.m.
“They’ve been playing well all season, but it was just a matter of us finishing our opportunities,” Boyertown coach Scott Didyoung said. “And our defense is getting stronger and stronger as we play, so I’m very proud of them. A lot of it has to do with them gathering confidence.”
Boyertown displayed that by reeling off wins in its final four league games, including a had-to-have 3-1 victory over the Rams last week that avenged an earlier 1-0 loss.
It continued in the third meeting, with Conner Reiss ripping one home off a feed from Alex Kidwell in the game’s fifth minute to put the Bears up 1-0.
“I think we’re just playing smarter and playing harder,” said Recke, a three-year starter and one of seven key figures back from last year’s title squad. “Back in the beginning of the year, we had a couple bumps in the road and were trying to find the right chemistry with people in different positions, but we definitely figured it out.”
After being on its heels in the early going of Tuesday’s semi, Liberty champion Spring-Ford (12-5-2) slowly began to figure out the Bears.
Junior midfielder Ronnie Minges headed home a cross from Mike Hyduke for the equalizer 23 minutes before intermission, and the Rams appeared to be in business.
“We came out with a game plan to kind of attack them on the flanks and hold the ball more,” first-year Spring-Ford coach Brent Kissel said. “We didn’t get stuck into their style of play as much and we had our moments. We just have to do a better job of finishing our chances in the run of play. They (the Bears) have a good team; their targets are very fast and accurate and they work very hard for them. When we got stuck in their style of play and couldn’t hold the ball, that’s when we got in trouble.”
Spring-Ford found itself in a heap of trouble with 13:26 left in regulation, when a hand-ball violation gave the Bears a direct kick from the right side a few paces outside the box. After teammate Nik Verma ran past the ball, Recke buried it perfectly into the upper 90 to the right of keeper Kyle Allan.
“I knew in my head I was going opposite post,” Recke said. “I felt it (was good) off my foot.”
In a contest that saw plenty of end-to-end forays, the Rams nearly forced OT in the final minute, but Nate Alban’s bullet wound up being deflected over the crossbar by keeper Connor McKeown and the Bears punched their ticket to the league final for the third straight season.
“I think the (past playoff experience) helped them,” Didyoung said. “They believe in themselves, and I couldn’t be happier for them.”
NOTES >> Boyertown finished with a 13-5 advantage in shots, while Spring-Ford had a 5-3 edge in corners. … Allan made five saves, with McKeown being credited with two. … Boyertown is seeking to go back-to-back for the first time since joining the league in 2002. The Bears also won PAC titles in 2009 and 2012. … Spring-Ford, at 13th in the latest District 1-AAAA power ratings, will return to action in districts Tuesday. The Bears are ranked 20th.