EAST MARLBOROUGH – It’s been a wild and wacky boys’ soccer season in the Ches-Mont, so it only makes sense that there’s chaos as the race for the regular season title comes close to concluding.
With a game in hand over four other legitimate contenders, Downingtown East could have gotten a leg-up on Tuesday, but the Cougars suffered a 1-0 overtime loss at Unionville – on a penalty kick by junior Michael Hewes, no less.
“For high fans of high school soccer, it’s been awesome,” said Indians’ head coach Rich Garber. “It’s a very, very competitive league.”
The bottom line is that there are currently four teams at the top of the league standings: Downingtown East, Unionville, West Chester East and West Chester Henderson. The latter three still have one match to play, while the Cougars finish at 8-3-1.
“There are a lot of good teams. If we’d have won this game, we would have had a good chance at the title,” said Downingtown East head coach Tom Creighton.
But Unionville’s win, coupled with West Chester East’s 2-1 overtime win over Avon Grove and a 1-0 Henderson win over Downingtown West, puts all three at 8-2-1.
“We have to hope for some help to win (the title) outright,” Garber said. “I don’t know what all of the tiebreakers are, and I didn’t want to look at it until after this one was over.
“The way I understand it, we have to hope Henderson and (West Chester) East lose a point somewhere, and it can still happen.
“With the way this season’s going, anything can happen.”
The top four contenders have each amassed 17 points. And even fifth-place Avon Grove (6-2-3, 15 points) is still mathematically alive, but like Downingtown East the Red Devils are the longest of shots. Avon Grove will host Henderson on Thursday. Unionville and West Chester East will be highly favored to beat Sun Valley and Oxford, respectively, in their finales.
“It’s a great feeling to stop (Downingtown East) from winning on our home field,” Hewes said. “And it keeps us in the mix, so it was real big.”
Tuesday’s clash at Unionville was a matchup of the number 10 and 11 teams in the district 4A Power Rankings, and what ensued was just as close and competitive. Neither team was able to score in 80 minutes of regulation, but five minutes, 37 seconds into the first overtime, the Indians got a break off a restart.
“The free kick was deflected by the (Cougars’) wall and it came into the box and an East kid stuck his arm out and it hit him,” explained Hewes.
The Indians were awarded a penalty kick because of the hand ball, and there was no doubt which player was going to take it.
“Michael’s been doing it since his sophomore year,” Garber said. “He is solid in PK’s and he wants to take them. He is really consistent.”
Moments later, Hewes sent a blast into the lower left corner of the net, beating Cougars’ goaltender Dan Good.
“I was a little nervous and my heart was beating,” Hewes acknowledged. “I kind of know (Good) and I wasn’t sure if he knew where I like to go. So I made sure to put a lot of power on it.
“It’s probably one of the biggest goals I’ve scored.”
It culminated an evening with individual battles waged all over the field. And because these two squads were so evenly matched, it only made sense that a mistake could wind of being the difference.
When asked about the way it ended, Creighton said: “No comment.”
But then he added: “(Unionville) earned the PK and put it away.”
Indians’ goalkeeper Alex Dolce finished with nine saves and wound up blanking the speedy Cougars for 84:23.
“We fought hard to keep ourselves in it, and when the chance came, we took advantage,” Dolce said. “I’ve seen (Hewes) do it for years, so when the ref called for a PK, I kind of knew it was the game.”
Down the stretch of regulation, both sides had quality chances. First, Unionville’s Thomas Kelly slipped in wide for a shot but it went wide with about five minutes on the clock.
“(Downingtown East) outplayed us tonight,” Garber said. “They showed they wanted to win and they forced the issue. They worked their tails of and I give them a lot of credit.”
“We just had to grind it out. We were able to make some passes, but we just weren’t getting the final third, and (Dan Good) swept anything that was even close. I think both keepers were really good, to be honest. Alex made some great saves at the end.”
With 2:47 on the clock, the Cougars’ Gabe Wilson had the ball on his foot in front of Dolce, but his bang-bang shot sailed over the crossbar. And even in the final minute of regulation, Dolce had to stop two additional shots on goal by East’s Cesar May.
“Our boys came out and gave it their all,” Creighton said. “It’s a group that has worked their tails off, and they are going to have a super sour taste in their mouths heading into the playoffs. I feel bad for the next team that faces us.
“We created our chances and (Unionville’s) keeper came up with some big saves, and he didn’t give up any rebounds.”
With a bunch at the top of the Ches-Mont standings, it’s doubtful that anybody is going to end up grabbing sole possession of the crown. Unionville made sure it didn’t happen on Tuesday.
“We’ll take this win, especially against a quality opponent,” Garber said.
“We had a good scouting report so we knew who to watch, and the whole team worked hard to stop them,” Dolce added. “It was a total team effort to keep them scoreless,” Dolce said.
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