HERSHEY >> “Legendary.”
That was Conestoga boys soccer coach David Zimmerman’s quick answer on how to describe senior striker Chris Donovan’s performance in the PIAA Class 4A Championship at Hersheypark Stadium on Friday.
Anyone who witnessed the brilliance of his 80 minutes against Hempfield would be grasping for a more apt description. Donovan scored four times as the Pioneers rolled to their second straight title, 4-0.
“That’s 56 (career) goals,” said Zimmerman. “If people who hadn’t seen before was curious about him, he put on a show. You couldn’t have asked for a better ending to an incredible soccer career.”
Donovan, who scored the lone goal in last year’s win over Elizabethtown, now has five goals in the last two title games, conjuring up images of another Donovan who came up clutch on a big stage, retired U.S. Soccer star, Landon Donovan.
“Couldn’t have dreamt of anything better,” said Donovan. “To be honest, I thought one goal would just be good enough, but to get four is just crazy.”
Conestoga polished off an unbeaten 25-0-1 season and became the first team to repeat at the top PIAA level since Upper St. Clair in 2012-13. They have won both championships contested at the 4A level.
“I think of it as the white whale,” added Zimmerman. “If you look at all sports on all levels, it’s very rare that teams are able to repeat. Something about winning that makes it hard to win again. For us to be able to do this is a dream. Credit to these guys, we had a dominant season, and this was the exclamation point.”
The game had an even beginning before Conestoga started to assert its authority. A seemingly innocent long pass turned into the game’s first goal with a little over 10 minutes in. A long ball from Logan Schwartz from about 30 yards out floated into the box. Donovan beat two defenders and onrushing goalie Brady Ross to head it into the net.
“I just love when my teammates play long balls in the box because I’m not afraid to go in on the keeper. He came out, but I won it over him,” said Donovan.
Just five minutes later, Donovan and the Pioneers doubled their advantage. A long-range effort by Nino Mauro took a fortuitous bounce onto Donovan’s right foot, where he rifled a shot into the back of the net.
Conestoga outshot the Black Knights (22-5) 7-0 in the first half and 17-2 for the game.
While the offense was controlling its half of the field, the defense was building a brick wall on the other side. The Pioneers’ defense kept Hempfield’s forays into the offensive zone to a minimum, clearing any crosses, and not allowing any chances of quality.
“Pretty much the same as last year, I’m ecstatic,” said senior defender and co-captain Michael McCarthy. “I’m so happy for our guys. We worked so hard and we knew it would be hard going back-to-back, but it was one of our goals. We were just playing our game. We knew once we get into attack it’s pretty much our defense.”
Hempfield was on its heels the entire night and the District 3 champions could never get on the front foot.
“Tough way to end, but they are a phenomenal team,” said Hempfield coach Mark Ashley. “Conestoga is just unreal. I give them so much credit for the way they play as a team.”
In the second half, the Pioneers continued their free-flowing attractive brand of attacking soccer with some flair added to it. Rodrigo Martinez earned some space with a spin-o-rama move, but his shot went over the crossbar.
Moments later, a lovely give-and-go between Donovan and Nate Xu resulted in a Donovan shot that was well-stopped by Ross.
Donovan completed his hat trick with 11:49 left as he headed in a corner. His fourth came in the last five minutes to merely accentuate the virtuoso performance on command.
“It’s amazing,” McCarthy said on playing with Donovan. “I’m playing with that kid for the next years (at Drexel). It’s going to be fun.”
Conestoga 4, Hempfield 0
Hempfield 0 0 – 0
Conestoga 2 2 – 4
Conestoga goals: Donovan 4.
Goalie saves: Ross (H) 4, Smith (C) 0, Dougherty (C) 0.