Tredyffrin – When Conestoga midfielder Blaise Milanek fired home a goal at the beginning of the second half to break a scoreless tie and put the Pioneers ahead for good in the PIAA District One 4A boys’ soccer championship semifinal Wednesday evening, Conestoga head coach David Zimmerman thought it was fitting that the scoring combination was the senior trio of defender Gabe Harms to forward Mason Miller to Milanek.
“They’re known as the Three Amigos – all three of them played on the varsity as freshmen, they play on the same club team, and they’ve been the core of our team the last three years,” said Zimmerman. “And this win was their last soccer game for Conestoga on Teamer Field.”
In front of packed house at Teamer Field, Milanek scored 45 seconds into the second half, then 14 minutes later Miller tallied give the hosts a 2-0 lead. North Penn rallied for a goal by senior defender Noah Kwortnik with 10:06 left, but the visitors could do no more and the Pioneers (21-0) won, 2-1, to advance to the District One championship final.
To view a photo gallery from this district semifinal click here
The championship final, against No. 2 seed West Chester Henderson (19-1-1), will be played Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Great Valley High School. Henderson’s only loss this season was a 2-1 defeat against Conestoga Sept. 6.
For the first 40 minutes of Wednesday’s district semifinal, No. 5 seed North Penn battled undefeated Conestoga to a scoreless draw, and the score was 0-0 at halftime.
North Penn head coach Paul Duddy said, “I thought Conestoga had the advantage for the first 10-12 minutes of the first half, then we played them pretty much even the rest of the half. But in the second half, they dominated us.”
Conestoga put the pressure on North Penn right after halftime, which led to Milanek’s goal 45 seconds into the second half.
Zimmerman said, “For the first five minutes of each half, we try to put the pressure on our opponent, try to keep the ball in their territory. When you start a game, players might be a little nervous, their touch might not be there, and mistakes can be made. Those mistakes are amplified if you make them in your own territory, so we try to particularly push the ball [deep into opposing] territory the first few minutes of a half.”
Miller, who was the middleman in the first score, echoed his coach: “The first five minutes, we try to keep up the pressure, keep the ball up on their end. When Gabe [Harms] brought the ball up, I could see that there were two guys on him, I called for the ball, and he passed it to me. I saw Blaise coming over toward the goal, and passed it to him, and he put it in.”
Milanek said, “We always try to start the half with the pressure up for the first five minutes. It was a set piece – Gabe passed the ball down the line to Mason, and then [Mason] and I made eye contact, and he got it to me.”
Duddy said, “We made a mistake on the far side early in the second half [leading to the goal by Milanek], and you can’t make mistakes against a team like Conestoga – that’s why they’re 21-0. Conestoga is very good on set pieces, they defend well and they’re fast. They’re very good everywhere.”
Conestoga’s second goal came when Miller worked his way from the right corner into the middle, where he saw an opening and fired it in to give the hosts a 2-0 lead with 25:10 to play.
The Pioneers continued their sharp passing and ball control well into the second half, and appeared the have the game in hand when North Penn worked the ball deep into Conestoga territory and senior defender Noah Kwortnik chipped in a goal to make it 2-1 with 10:06 left.
Duddy noted, “In addition to scoring our one goal, Noah played well defensively, and [senior] Mike Kohler had his moments [of standout play] tonight.”
Trailing 2-1 with 10 minutes to play, the visitors could do no more.
Zimmerman said, “North Penn is a tough team, and they didn’t give up. When they scored to make it 2-1, I told our wings to get back, and with less than five minutes left, we tried to play in the corners. I thought we did a good job of limiting their chances at the end of the game.”
Duddy said, “We have 3-4 pretty dangerous attacking players, and Conestoga did a good job of shutting them down.”