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De George: Palermo twins’ last stand goes as dual achievement

Strath Haven's Nicky Palermo heads up the pitch against West Allegheny in the PIAA Class 3A boys' soccer final Friday. Palermo and his twin brother Vincey have been part of state-runner-up teams in both soccer and lacrosse. (Mark Palczewski/For Digital First Media)
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HERSHEY — Nate Perrins was reluctant to receive the silver trophy for PIAA runner-up from Dr. Robert Lombardi Friday night. But having been there before, Vincey Palermo stepped up.

The 4-0 loss to West Allegheny in the PIAA Class 3A boys soccer final at HersheyPark Stadium isn’t the first time Palermo has been on the wrong side of a state final, with his twin brother Nicky not far away. But the macro view of those accomplishments – runs to the PIAA championship games in lacrosse and soccer in the same calendar year – is something very few ever get the chance to achieve. And even through the disappointment of Friday’s loss, that level of attainment rang true to both twins.

“Certainly both seasons we enjoyed a lot,” Vincey said. “This soccer season, this whole year, we’ve had a lot of support, and that’s made it worthwhile. And it’s really just cool in school when we have the whole school behind us.”

The brothers were heavily involved in both state final runs. Vincey split time down the middle with Will Brake in goal in lacrosse, helping the Panthers make the state final last spring before falling to Bishop Shanahan. Vincey was in net for the second half most often, meaning that a double-overtime win in the District 1 third-place game to get to states and the overtime victory against Mars Area in the state semis were on his goaltending watch.

That Mars win was clinched by Nicky’s goal, the midfielder finishing fifth on the team in scoring with a penchant for showing up in the biggest games.

Strath Haven defender Vincey Palermo kicks the ball away from in front of the Panthers goal against West Allegheny in PIAA Class 3A boys soccer final Friday.
(Mark Palczewski/For Digital First Media)

Soccer is the first sport for the twins, who celebrated birthdays last week, the product of growing up in an Italian family. Lacrosse was a later adoption, but one they’ve taken to.

With their state finals experience, the Palermos helped Strath Haven get off to a fast start Friday, albeit not one they could sustain against West Allegheny. Nicky provided a couple of dangerous runs from his left wing spot, but they didn’t manifest into shots on target. The Panthers had just four shots that found the cage, none seriously troubling goalkeeper Braden Wurst until a Jacob Zweier effort was tipped off the crossbar in the second half.

“A lot of kids were definitely nervous today because it’s the first time playing in a state championship game,” Nicky said. “But I think me and Vincey were more prepared to play in it. I think we came out strong, our whole team actually, and we had a couple of shots, then one of our players got hurt and it went all downhill from there.”

“They obviously set the tone,” Perrins said. “They send a message to the other team and our team that they’re ready to play the whole time they’ve been here, and I couldn’t ask for more.”

In a game where Strath Haven (16-7-2) struggled to find the balance between smartly physical and dangerously aggressive, both Palermos were caught up in the fray, each earning yellow cards. Center back Vincey could’ve gotten a caution for a tactical foul late in the first half. Instead, West Allegheny’s buzzing playmaker Nathan Dragisich served the free kick quickly from 30 yards out, catching the defense by surprise with a wonderfully taken set piece that glided by the outstretched arm of goalie Noah Atsaves in the 37th minute.

Vincey did get his yellow by taking down a counter-attacking Fletcher Amos in the box in the 48th minute, which Dragisich converted easily from the spot to make it 3-0. Dragisich would complete his hat trick with 12 minutes to play, giving the Indians (23-2) a comprehensive victory.

The Palermos know, however, that the final game isn’t what they’ll remember most from a trip through states. Just in the same way that their lacrosse run wasn’t defined by the last three quarters being comprehensively dismantled by Shanahan, Friday’s humbling by West Allegheny isn’t the final word on what this Strath Haven team accomplished. From fifth place in the Central League to a District 1 championship and a PIAA final – the program’s seventh and first since 2001 – the Panthers’ success to this late juncture of the season wasn’t exactly expected.

That surprise element adds to the gratification players like Nicky feel.

“We make brothers on the team,” he said. “We definitely get a lot closer. During the regular season, I’m not close with some of the younger kids, but then as we start playing through playoffs and then states, we get to play and make a brotherhood and a family.”

The silver trophy that Vincey so reluctantly cradled Friday isn’t the one the Panthers hoped to tote home. But that trophy’s value increases with every day of distance from the night’s disappointment, a token of what this group accomplished.

The Palermos know that from experience, something they’ll pass on to their teammates in time.

“It took so much effort from the team, from the support from our parents, from our coaches, and that’s all that matters,” Vincey said. “We came out here to prove ourselves, and we ended up doing it.”

“It’s definitely the journey,” Nicky said. “I’m happy how far our team went. I remember a teammate said on the bus the other day about how we lost to Ridley in the summer league, and then we came all the way to the state championships. It’s really exciting.”

To contact Matthew De George, email mdegeorge@21st-centurymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @sportsdoctormd.

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