NETHER PROVIDENCE — With 4:34 left to play in the first half Monday night against Upper Perkiomen, Strath Haven forward Nate Perrins found himself in space some 32 yards from the net. It wasn’t the first time he had the ball in that position. Twice in the opening minute he fired shots Patrick McHale’s way. Both attempts gave the keeper fits.
This time around, Perrins let fly again, unleashing a strike that flew past McHale and into the back of the net. Perrins didn’t celebrate. He turned and gave the soccer version of the Jordan shrug. And why not? It was his third goal in a span of 4:34 of game time.
It also completed a perfect hat trick: Perrins had scored with his left foot, his head and now his right foot. And it gave the No. 2 Panthers a four-goal advantage on their way to a 10-1 rout of the No. 6 Indians in the District 1 Class 3A semifinals.
With the lopsided win, Haven clinches its first trip to the PIAA state tournament since 2005. The Panthers will take on No. 1 Holy Ghost Prep, which defeated No. 5 Phoenixville, 4-2, in the other semifinal, Thursday at 7:00 at Upper Merion High School in the district final.
“Our game plan coming in was to go right at them,” Perrins said. “We didn’t want to give them a chance.”
Up 5-1 at the break, the senior captain put things to bed early in the second half. Perrins curled in a shot from distance — only 26 yards out this time — then flicked in a cross from Emmet Young to complete a remarkable performance. In the last 9:08 of the first half and the first 5:25 of the second, Perrins scored five times.
“He’s a special player; it’s well-deserved,” Panthers coach Ryan O’Neill said. “And he gets quite bit of chances and doesn’t score all of them. For him, that was good, because he’s had games where he’s only had one or didn’t get any. I’m very proud of him and the whole team.”
The five goals from Perrins and 10 from the Panthers in total are certainly out of the ordinary but not necessarily out of character. As a group, Haven has filled the net all season and has yet to get shut out in 2018. The Panthers scored 18 goals in the four games leading up to the semis, including a 4-1 romp over Upper Moreland in the quarterfinals.
If the playoffs are defined by cagey tactics, penalty shootouts, and nil-nil draws, the ability to consistently score is a luxury.
“It’s funny, it’s been a seasonal thing,” O’Neill said. “So the last two years, the defense was the focus and now the players are attackers. We go with what we have. We’re not afraid to attack.”
Haven boasts a plethora of offensive weapons, fronted by Perrins, and they all showed up Monday evening. Nicky Palermo, a speedy winger, opened the scoring and picked up two assists. Gavin Birch assisted on Palermo’s marker, while pulling the strings from his attacking midfield position. Young, who plays deeper in the midfield, got in on the act as well, scoring a smart header and setting up two goals.
“It makes it easier,” Young said of playing with this attacking group. “If Nate’s covered, I can get it out wide to Nicky. Or Gavin. Or anyone that’s open.”
“We have great chemistry,” Perrins added. “That leads to many scoring opportunities.”
To its credit, Upper Perkiomen hung tough through much of the first half. McHale took a few knocks, which forced backup keeper Matthew
Wanamaker into action. Then, down 2-0, Cole Kendra broke through the Haven defense on a counterattack to pull the Indians (12-8-0) to within a single goal.
That set the stage for Perrins to take over.
“Until you’re playing up against guys, it’s hard to say what to expect,” Upper Perkiomen coach Kyle Fisher said of Perrins. “He’s clearly a special player.”
Fisher has a young team and, despite the lopsided defeat, took away positives from the experience.
“We had set out a goal at the beginning of the season to make districts,” Fisher said. “Having an exciting game against Pottsgrove and being able to get to this point was a big feather in our cap and a big step forward for our program.”
For the home team, the victory marks a noteworthy return. O’Neill said it reminded him of the 1995 state final, when he and the Panthers defeated McDowell, 8-0.
“This has been a long stretch of time where we have not made the states,” O’Neil said. “And we’ve gotten to multiple quarterfinals. We’ve had overtime losses and that, so I’m very excited.”