West Chester – In what has been a memorable year for the West Chester Henderson boys’ soccer team it looked as though another Central League school was going to be its kryptonite.
With Henderson’s only loss this season coming at the hands of Central League champion and district tournament No. 1 seed Conestoga, it appeared as though Lower Merion (16-3-2) was on its way of handing West Chester Henderson (19-1-1) just its second loss of the season in the third round of the PIAA District One Class 4A tournament Saturday.
But with just over two minutes remaining in regulation, and facing a 1-0 deficit, the Warriors got the equalizer, before finding the back of the net again early in overtime to notch the 2-1 victory over the Aces and clinch their third state tournament berth (including two in Class AAA) in the last four years.
“We have a senior-laden team and before the year started we had a feeling the state tournament was a distinct possibility,” said West Chester Henderson coach Sean Ryan. “To see this group have another crack in the state tournament means a lot but we still have plenty of work left in the district tournament.”
After Lower Merion keeper Sebastian Jenkins came up with two brilliant saves, the Warriors earned a corner kick. As Frank DeRosa lined up he saw a cutting Zach Roberts who got a head on the ball on the far post that seemed to be curling towards the back of the net to level the score at 1-1.
With a continued push, Henderson had another opportunity in the final minute, but as he did most of the night, Jenkins stoned Aiden McFadden from point blank range to help send the game into overtime.
In the first extra session, Henderson had a direct kick from the 50-yard line. Trying to convert a play the Warriors run in practice, senior Max Zandi drove a deep ball towards the back of the box that found the head of fellow senior Roberts, who flicked far post into the net and sent the hosts on their way to the district semifinals Wednesday night against Council Rock North.
“We work on set plays in practice, but I knew I had to put the ball on the keeper and hope somebody would be there for the tip, and luckily Zach was there for the header,” said Zandi.
“I wanted to go back post but all I really thought was scoring,” Roberts said. “Max hurried the play and Lower Merion thought we would go down the line, which left me open. Fortunately I was able to score.”
“It’s always nice to see things you practice come to fruition,” Ryan said. “The boys have to execute it and they certainly did tonight. I remember watching Max (Zandi) and Zach (Roberts) in eighth grade and to see them now is one of the great pleasures I have seen in my coaching career at Henderson.”
Lower Merion took a 1-0 lead 10 minutes into the second half when Tim O’Hare collected a cross from Max Shapiro before making a move and drilling a shot that found the back of the net.
Forced to play a man down the final six minutes of regulation and overtime, it appeared as though Lower Merion was going to escape before Henderson completed its comeback.
Lower Merion will now get ready to take on Neshaminy Wednesday in the playback round, in hopes of keeping its state playoff hopes alive.
Lower Merion coach Nico Severini said, “It was phenomenal effort and I am proud of the boys, but sometimes you are on the unlucky side of the stick. We have to regroup on Monday and be ready to play on Wednesday.”
O’Hare added, “This loss stings, but we have to get over this loss, work hard to hopefully get to states. We have to move past this and look forward.”