Franconia >> For the Conestoga boys’ soccer team, the winning formula Tuesday evening was the same as usual for its PIAA 4A state semifinal against Central Bucks West.
Get a couple of goals from high-scoring senior forward Chris Donovan, play airtight defense, and rely on goalie Luke Smith to save anything that manages to get through the Pioneers’ excellent defensive backfield.
It all added up to a 2-0 victory at Souderton Area High School that sends the defending state champion Pioneers (24-0-1) back to Hershey to try for a second consecutive PIAA 4A state title. Friday evening at Hersheypark Stadium, District 1 and Central League champion Conestoga (24-0-1) will face District 3 champion Hempfield.
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Tuesday evening, a few minutes after the Pioneers’ victory, Conestoga head coach David Zimmerman gathered his team, spoke to his players briefly and closed his talk with, “This was a big win….so you know what that means,” and Hershey Kisses chocolate candies were tossed into the air for the high-flying Pioneers to catch.
Conestoga didn’t waste much time getting the lead Tuesday night. Just 4:17 into the contest, Donovan stripped the ball from a Buck defender deep in CB West territory, then quickly dribbled and fired in an unassisted goal. It was his 51st goal of the season. Donovan, who finished the night with 52 goals for the season (so far), has more than doubled the Conestoga single-season mark for goals scored this fall.
“I liken Chris to a coiled snake,” said Zimmerman. “He sort of lies in wait, springs, and before you know it, he’s got another goal. He’s done it again and again this season. Just when he appears not to be doing very much, all of a sudden, the ball’s in the back of the net. He’s like a coiled spring ready to strike.”
Less then three minutes after Donovan’s first goal, Central Bucks West took a good shot at the Conestoga goal after a restart, but Luke Smith deftly knocked the ball away for a great save.
“Luke has been rock-solid for us this season,” said Zimmerman. “He doesn’t get enough credit because he typically doesn’t get much action. But when you talk about the best players on this team, he’s definitely in the conversation. He’s great back there.”
Conestoga clung to its 1-0 lead through most of the first half, as Central Bucks West (18-7), the fourth-place finisher in the District 1 tournament, was making it difficult for the Pioneers to mount a sustained attack.
The Pioneers finally got some needed breathing room 1:41 before halftime, when Donovan scored again (with an assist from senior midfielder Nick Jennings) after a volley starting from about 40 yards out. It started with Jennings, who gave it to senior midfielder Rodrigo Martinez, who sent it to Donovan, who gave it back to Jennings from about 20 yards out.
“Chris put the ball right at my feet, then I saw him streaking to the goal, and I slipped it through to him,” said Jennings. “I don’t think we played as well as we would have liked tonight, but that goal really gave us confidence going into halftime.”
Donovan said, “We had some good combinations going tonight, and that was one of them, with me, Nick and Rodrigo. It wasn’t our best game tonight, but we did what we needed to do – advance to Hershey.”
In the second half, CB West continued to make charges at the goal, led by senior midfielder Tarin Morris. With 25:25 left, Morris fired a shot that was headed toward the Pioneers’ goal, but Smith leapt to his right and knocked it away.
“It came to my right side, but I was able to get low and knock it away to the right,” said Smith. “I’m so excited to get back to Hershey.”
Conestoga’s defense, which has allowed only two goals in the post-season (both on penalty kicks), remained steady the rest of the way, keeping CB West off the scoreboard.
“Central Bucks West is a skilled team, they were very good on the attack tonight, and they had a strong counter game,” said Zimmerman. “I think our defense was ‘bend but don’t break’ tonight. It’s not often that we find ourselves on our heels for as much of the game as we were tonight, and ultimately, our guys in the back [Logan Schwartz, Mike McCarthy, Jason Ivey, Jack Murphy, Andrew Castleman] got the job done. They got a lot of work tonight, which is not typically the case, and they got the job done. They came through.”
Conestoga 2, Central Bucks West 0
Central Bucks West 0 0 – 0
Conestoga 2 0 – 2
Conestoga goals – Donovan 2.
Goalie saves: Dylan Smith (CBW) 4, Luke Smith (CON) 4.