ROYERSFORD >> Frank DeRosa summed it up pretty well.
The West Chester Henderson senior striker noted his team only had four good scoring chances in the first half against North Penn Saturday afternoon in their PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal at Spring-Ford Middle School. DeRosa also rightly noted that his team, or more accurately, he had scored on three of them.
DeRosa’s first-half hat trick woke up the Warriors from a lethargic start as they took down the Knights 5-1 in a game that wasn’t as far apart as the score looked.
“I was surprised to be honest because we came out very flat, very lackadaisical,” DeRosa said. “We had four chances in total and happened to score three of them. To score three in the first half against a good team is a huge accomplishment.”
Neither DeRosa or Henderson coach Sean Ryan could pinpoint exactly why the Warriors, who have been on a blistering tear since the start of districts, came out the way they did. But it was all the Knights early on, despite not having any shots to show for it.
The game would turn on Henderson’s first trek into the North Penn box. Henderson’s Aiden McFadden and North Penn’s Nick Terchek got tangled up in the corner of the box, and one of the officials deemed it enough to call for a penalty kick. Up stepped DeRosa, the team’s designated PK taker and, after a longer than usual pause, buried it with 29:29 left in the first half.
“From where I was standing it looked like a PK, but of course other people will have other opinions,” DeRosa said. “I felt like it settled us down a little bit and after we got the second and third ones, we got more into our rhythm leading into the second half.”
“Sure, it changes the game and it’s disappointing but you can’t lose 5-1 and blame referees and I wouldn’t go there,” North Penn coach Paul Duddy said. “But that certainly affected the game that early.”
DeRosa doubled the lead with 17:42 left on a nice header after McFadden had flicked a long throw back in the striker’s direction. DeRosa said he was expecting North Penn keeper Bobby Dean to make a play on the ball in mid-air but when the keeper was a split-second behind on his decision, DeRosa was able to flick the header into the net’s open space.
That goal was huge because North Penn started to apply a lot of pressure right after, but playing down 2-0 was a lot to ask.
“Our spirit is basically to shake it off and continue playing and I think that’s what we tried to do the whole game,” North Penn senior defender Noah Kwortnik said. “After that PK, it showed what the refs were going to do, but you can’t worry about the refs. We had to play our game and we did a good job of it after that penalty kick getting out form back.”
Henderson goalkeeper Brady McSwain came up big in the first half, saving a shot by Luke McMahon then getting enough hands on a great rip by midfielder Mike Kohler to knock it away for a corner. Yet for all the pressure, the Knights couldn’t get one back and two minutes after Kohler’s hit, saw the deficit increase.
An initial shot was blocked, causing a scramble in the box that DeRosa pounced on, firing the free ball into the net for his third goal of the afternoon.
“It gave them all the momentum and that’s what won them the game,” North Penn senior forward Nate Baxter said. “The (PK) call lifted all the momentum off of us onto them and I guess we didn’t respond well and unfortunately that cost us the game.”
With McSwain playing exceptional, the Henderson backs were able to police up the area, clearing balls and winning a lot of the 50/50 battles that are so crucial in the outcome of a match. Duddy even conceded that the Warriors were the better team winning those second chances and other balls.
Henderson had the lead and the momentum at the half, but wasn’t content to sit on it.
“We don’t subscribe to that just because you’re winning, you sit back,” Ryan said. “We brought some subs in, some guys that were fresh. We want to play both sides of the ball and I felt they came in and generated some chances. North Penn made some good defensive plays but we continued to press, which is how we want to play.”
The Warriors scored their fourth goal less than two minutes into the second half on the most controversial moment of the day. Henderson had the ball on the endline and one of the officials blew his whistle, audible across the stadium, to call it out. North Penn players stopped but the ball had already been played off the line and McFadden put it away.
After an initial call of no goal, the two officials closest to the goal conferred then called the goal good. Another conference followed with all three of them and they only explanation they offered was that no whistle was ever blown.
“They said there was no whistle,” Duddy said. “We, of course, thought it was out.”
“It’s heart-breaking,” Kohler said. “We’d been working for this point the whole year and it feels like it’s been taken away from us.”
Henderson added its fifth with 30:01 left when Tom King got up and put a beautiful header into the net off a long throw-in by Richie Schlentz.
Baxter pulled one back for North Penn with 21:57 left, off an assist from Nick Terchek. The Knights had a couple of other chances, but nothing else got past McSwain, who made seven saves in the win.
“It’s frustrating, it’s really upsetting because it’s our last game as seniors,” Baxter said. “It doesn’t represent the flow of the game at all. It’s just a sad way to go out after this season.”
North Penn still accomplished a lot this season, winning the SOL Continental title, taking third in District I and making their first state tournament appearance since 2004. Then they built on it by getting their first state win in Duddy’s tenure. A lot of good seniors like Dean, Terchek, Baxter, Kwortnik and Kohler are leaving, but there is a lot of good young talent on the roster.
For guys like McMahon and freshman Carter Houlihan, the bar has been raised. Kohler said when he has a minute to step back and think about it, he’ll realize he and his teammates did a lot to be proud of this year. They just weren’t ready to do it Saturday.
“(Henderson was) better today, on the day, they were better,” Duddy said. “There’s no doubt about it and that’s what the scoreboard says. But I’m not sure the scoreboard tells the way the game went.”
Henderson is into the state semifinals, where it will face Elizabethtown on Tuesday. The Warriors have a lot of talent and with all those guys seemingly in top form the last month, it’s made for some remarkable soccer.
“Starting with Penn Wood the first round of districts, we’ve just been on fire,” DeRosa said. “Once we scored the goal that tied Lower Merion with two minutes left, we’ve been riding momentum like I’ve never seen before. We’ve scored over 25 goals in six playoff games, which is amazing for any team. I don’t even think Central Bucks (East) did that last year, and they were amazing.”
Top Photo: North Penn’s Eric Szilagyi and West Chester Henderson’s Aiden McFadden battle in front of the North Penn goal during their PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)