POTTSTOWN >> Act like you’ve been there before.
In the Hill School boys soccer team’s case, it has been and knows just how to get there.
‘There’ is the Pa. Independent Schools Athletic Association championship game and The Hill earned its place in it for a sixth straight season Thursday evening with a poised and opportunistic performance in a 2-0 victory over Mercersburg Academy on Harry Price Field.
Senior Euan Forrest and senior Hale Lombard found the net for the Blues, who set up a state final rematch with Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy, a 1-0 winner over Kiski School in Thursday’s other semifinal. The final goes down at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at Immaculata University.
Final: Hill School 2, Mercersburg 0, PAISAA boys soccer semifinal. The Blues are back in the state final for a rematch with SCH pic.twitter.com/ocW0i9MJSD
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) November 8, 2018
The Blues managed to blank a Mercersburg team that was out for blood after Hill won their regular-season meeting 3-2 on Oct. 27 in a match that effectively decided the Mid-Atlantic Prep League championship. They did it with an experienced defensive display featuring the center back tandem of Forrest and classmate Aidan Sullivan, outside backs Caleb Gerdeman and Aiden Woolley and goalkeeper Alan Kim.
“I think having a back four that went through this all last year – even though the rest of our team is very young – they have been there and done that and have brought a calm to the group that has allowed our keeper to mature from where he was up to tonight, where he was outstanding,” Hill head coach Chris Drowne said.
That group wasn’t shy about blocking shots against the Storm’s capable attack and allowed only three shots on goal.
“With the stakes being what they are and what we’ve been through this season, putting our bodies on the line or taking an extra step for the anyone of the guys isn’t something we have the think about, we just do it,” Sullivan said. “Everyone cares about the team so much and we want success so much.”
Of the Storm’s three shots, two were excellent scoring chances for Mercersburg senior standout Sam Morgan, but junior Kim expertly stopped both, the first with a quick-reaction, low save to his right in the 10th minute that was a turning point after the Storm bossed the start of the match.
“That save changes the whole game,” Sullivan said. “They had the momentum at that point and that completely killed their momentum. And five or 10 minutes later we put one in the net.”
Hill worked its way into the game thereafter and quickly got their reward on a Sam Beckett corner kick delivered right on a platter for Forrest, whose wide-open header gave Hill a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.
With the midfield trio of Beckett, Lombard and Chance Antonio having worked its way into the game, the Blues essentially nullified Mercersburg for the next 40 minutes.
The Storm kicked on with 20 minutes remaining, their best chance on a ball over the top for Morgan, who worked a small breakaway but was closed well by Kim.
Hill again turned defense into offense when Beckett was given too much space on the edge of the 18 on the right. The freshman rattled the crossbar with his left-footed blast, which rebounded to Lombard, who took a touch and finished with his right for a 2-0 advantage with 14:30 to play.
After seeing out the final 15 minutes, Hill continued its chase for a fourth PAISAA championship (2013, 2014, 2016).
It is their sixth consecutive appearance in the final – every year the PAISAA has staged a tournament – and again served as proof of Hill’s tactic of taking on the top prep schools in the region early in the season with long-range benefit in mind.
“That’s what I enjoy about coaching at a boarding school,” Drowne said. “It takes a few weeks to figure out who is going to click next to one another because they haven’t played with each other since first grade. They’ve played together since the last week of August. That takes a little while. So I think that’s why you see a team like us peak a little later because it takes some time. You get asked a lot of questions when you play a St. Benedict’s or a Berkshire, but those are questions you get to sort out before you get to this level. I thought those experiences showed up tonight.”
Now, Hill’s attention can turn solely to reclaiming the PAISAA title after last year’s 2-0 final defeat to SCHA.
“We won it our sophomore year and obviously last year (2-0 loss), I think for us seniors and all the kids on the team last year, we want redemption,” Sullivan said.
They know the energy of playing for a trophy and are ready for it.
“The whole experience of the bus ride there, under the lights, all the fans, the stakes, seeing the trophy … it’s a different experience every time and each time it gets more exciting the older you get because of the more responsibilities you have (to the team),” Forrest said.
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