PHILADELPHIA >> Zach Wheatley saw his team controlling play and getting chances, so he knew exactly what he had to do when he got on the pitch.
In a downpour on a sopping wet field Wheatley provided the spark Archbishop Wood needed in its PIAA 3A first-round game against Manheim Central at Northeast High. The rain did little to stop Wheatley or the Vikings, with the junior scoring three times in the first half and assisting a second half goal.
Behind Wheatley’s super-sub effort, Wood topped the Barons 5-1 to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals.
“I just wanted to out there, find the ball and put it in the net,” Wheatley said. “I knew I could go out there and pressure the backs. Christian (Petro) was doing well out there and I just wanted to go out there and bring the same kind of impact.”
The rain was already going before Wood and Maheim Central took the field in the second game of a scheduled tripleheader. Once the match started though, the rains picked up and continued in a consistent downpour through the 80 minutes of regulation.
By the end of the game, players from both sides were soaked, freezing and some couldn’t feel their feet. Every kick of the ball brought a spray of water from the drenched turf.
Wood was on the Barons quickly, with Petro admonishing himself after pushing a shot wide of an open net two minutes in. The Vikings went right at the District 3 runner-up and it felt like a matter of time before someone put a goal away.
“We were that one final pass away,” Wheatley said. “We created a lot of chances and started to put them away. We brought a good intensity, we work hard in practice and it showed in the game. We know they’re a good team, we just had to play physical and work.”
Wheatley scored just moments after subbing on and completed his hat-trick in a staggering 15:36 of game time. His first goal, the first of the game, came when he followed his own shot and punched it home after Maheim Central keeper Mason Nissley couldn’t control the rebound with 15:38 left in the half.
Wood kept pressing but didn’t score again until Wheatley found himself in the right place again with 4:25 left before halftime. A free kick sailed into the box, with the junior making a run onto it and knocking the ball into the net.
He capped the spree by hammering home a shot in the box with 2.8 left in the first half.
“We put him in, the energy level seemed good, he gets a lot of minutes with the other forwards, we interchange them but tonight was his night, no doubt about it,” Wood coach Hugh Kelly said. “We had a good flow, we were finding feet even with the weather conditions being poor, we kept working and kept plugging along as we’ve done all year.”
Wheatley said while Nissley was a bit intimdating with his size, the Vikings went back to matchups with La Salle’s Brett Werner and Roman’s Kevin Tobin for ideas on how to beat him.
In a driving rain, Wood didn’t try to do anything outrageous and instead kept the ball on the turf as much as possible. The Vikings’ midfield had an excellent game, with Bob Hennessey, Hugh Lynch, Ryan Morgan and Petro all stringing short, sequential passes together.
The back line was also good too, and Kelly noted the defenses work in keeping Zach Reed and Carson Brenize in check. Wood’s backs wanted to play short and connect as well, but when needed, they were able to clear the ball.
“We work hard, we’re an industrious team, we’re not always glamorous,” Kelly said. “It was easier to keep it on the field. The skidding, even on turf there were a lot of puddles in the other corner, it didn’t seem to be as much a factor just by playing the short game.”
Manheim Central came out energized in the second half and used a wonderful goal by Reed to cut the lead down to 3-1 with 31:26 left. The center forward took a quick free kick, curling the service into the net and completely freezing Wood’s entire team.
The Vikings, who didn’t know much about the Barons coming in, knew they had to raise their level of play back to the first half standards. Wheatley again provided the needed inspiration off the bench. After the midfield found him on the right side, Wheatley played the ball back in to Cody Taylor, who neatly tucked the shot away with 19:44 to play.
“We needed to keep pushing,” Wheatley said. “They could come back easily down 3-1. I feel like they were paying a little more attention to me, but they were letting a lot of space up and I was able to take it and get the ball right to Cody and he put it in.”
Wood capped the scoring on a gorgeous build-up of passes that ended when Taylor played a great ball to Lynch for a finish to the far post with 17:31 left.
It was an impressive answer from the Vikings as conditions continued to deteriorate.
“Don’t think about the time, just focus on continuing to play well,” Wheatley said. “It was really, really cold out. Freezing, actually. We just had to stay on our plan, no matter what the conditions are. We executed well tonight.”
The Vikings will take on District 1 champion Bishop Shanahan, a 3-2 winner over Greencastle-Antrim, in Saturday’s quarterfinals. After bowing out in the first round of states last year and losing some key players, the Vikings played to their strengths to advance on Tuesday.
“It takes a little bit of pressure off of us,” Kelly said. “We have a young team so a lot of this is all new territory for a lot of guys. Giving up the goal early had me concerned, but we were resilient, came right back and did well with that.”
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 5, MANHEIM CENTRAL 1
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 3 2 – 5
MANHEIM CENTRAL 0 1 – 1
Goals: AW – Zach Wheatley, Wheatley, Wheatley, Cody Taylor (Wheatley), Hugh Lynch (Taylor); MC – Zach Reed
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