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PREVIEW: Phoenixville, Spring-Ford to face off in PAC Boys Soccer title game

After an exciting regular season matchup, Phoenixville and Spring-Ford face off again Thursday night, this time for the Pioneer Athletic Conference boys soccer championship, 5 p.m. at Owen J. Roberts.

The No. 1 seed and PAC Frontier champion Phantoms and No. 2 seed and PAC Liberty winner Rams play the first game of a championship doubleheader that features Owen J. Roberts and Pope John Paul II in the girls’ nightcap.

Here’s a look at the championship matchup:

Phoenixville’s Clay Kopko celebrates with goalkeeper Gavin Perillo after the Phantoms’ 2-1 win over Upper Merion. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Records >> Phoenixville: 10-0 PAC Frontier, 12-1 PAC, 17-1-1 overall, ranked No. 3 in the District 1-3A power rankings.

Spring-Ford: 6-1-3 PAC Liberty, 8-2-3 PAC, 13-2-4 overall, ranked No. 5 in the District 1-4A power rankings

How they got here >> Phoenixville rallied past Upper Merion, 2-1, on second-half goals from substitutes Yair Ibarra and Greg Flamma. Spring-Ford, a 2-1 win over Perkiomen Valley, got a lift from the surprise return of senior standout Ronnie Minges, who scored in the first minute and later less than a minute after PV’s Mike Weir leveled the match.

Head-to-head >> Phoenixville defeated Spring-Ford 3-2 on Sept. 22 thanks to three first-half goals from JT Stephens, Jair Ibarra and Jake Perillo. Cole Dampf and Colin Trainor scored to get the margin within a goal in the second half but could not complete the comeback.

Playoff history >> Spring-Ford is making its second-straight appearance in the Final Four. The Rams are two-time PAC champions (2010, 2013) and three-time runners-up (2007, 2009, 2012). … Phoenixville has made the semifinals three of the past four years, missing out in 2016. This is the Phantoms’ first appearance in the final after falling in the semifinals nine previous attempts.

Phoenixville’s JT Stevens tries to win a header in the Upper Merion penalty area in the first half against Upper Merion. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

On Phoenixville >> With so many lopsided results in their favor this season, coach Mike Cesarski’s Phantoms will have benefitted from the challenge they got from Upper Merion in the semifinal and being forced to break down an opponent playing a defensive shape. To get goals from a pair of substitutes, Ibarra and Flamma, speaks to how contagious scoring can be for a team (league-high 78 goals). The team goes as senior midfielder Kyle Tucker (24 goals, 11 assists) goes. Seniors Danny Jackson and Jared Carboy and junior JT Stevens carry a threat in the attack. The midfield and defense features seniors Tyler Siefer, Blake Ericksen, Nick Sinapius, Sean O’Neill, sophomore Clay Kopko and freshman goalkeeper Gavin Perillo, plus Jake Perillo, Flamma, Ibarra and Velkin Escobar.

Spring-Ford center back Cole Dampf wins a header against PV. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

On Spring-Ford >> Coach Brent Kissel’s Rams are unbeaten in their past 10 games after knocking off neighbor Perkiomen Valley for a third time this season. Senior Minges proved to be a game-changer as he’s done throughout his career by returning early from a dislocated shoulder. With Minges in the side, the Rams find their right balance as Nate Alban leads the line while senior Abdulla Nuredini and juniors Sal Ibarra and Johnny Guimaraes and sophomores Brett Gulati and Colin Trainor are key contributors going forward. On defense, seniors Cole Dampf, Calvin Thomas, Aidan Mossip and Jack Hermann form the back four in front of PK killer Hunter Hudak in goal.

Matchup >> The Phantoms’ 17-1-1 record can’t be overlooked, but it’s worth mentioning the close games they were up against during their PAC crossovers, all of which were one-goal games, as opposed to the many easier wins against weaker opposition. Spring-Ford, meanwhile, has been battling it out for weeks in a very balanced PAC Liberty Division and is the more battle-tested team. With Phoenixville so dominant going forward, the back line won’t have consistently faced what is in store Thursday and beyond. If the Phantoms’ attack is right, watch out. But the Rams have the talent to cancel that out and get forward themselves. Both teams will likely press the ball on defense, neither wanting to cede the possession percentage.

Prediction >> At full strength, Spring-Ford was this reporter’s preseason pick to win the PAC championship. With Minges in the side, the Rams look right and have the quality to not allow Phoenixville the comfort it’s largely been accustomed to this season. … Spring-Ford 2, Phoenixville 1.

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