WEST GOSHEN >> The change in momentum came like a tidal wave.
Joe Baranoski’s long ball into the box had just deflected off a Strath Haven defender to put Archbishop Wood up two goals barely more than a minute into the second half of their PIAA 3A boys soccer semifinal Tuesday. It took less than 30 seconds for the Panthers to score in response.
Strath Haven ripped off three unanswered goals and edged the Vikings 3-2 at West Chester East on Tuesday, ending a special season for the Vikings.
“It was a good season, I had a lot of fun with all my friends, winning the PCL (title) is my favorite thing that’s happened in high school,” Wood standout forward Koty Taylor said. “It’s tough losing this way, but I’m proud of everyone on the team.”
The District 1 champion Panthers nearly scored in the first minute but after a sluggish start over the opening 10 minutes, Wood found its game. Playing their trademark high-octane style, the Vikings started to connect, move the ball and generate chances.
They had a couple go wanting but kept pressing the issue and finally struck paydirt near the midway point of the first half. An initial shot by a Wood player struck a Strath Haven defender on the line square in the abdomen, denying a goal but teeing up a rebound that Ryan Morgan buried.
“I think in the first half we definitely should have had more than one goal,” Taylor, a first team all-PCL pick, said. “But that’s just how it came out.”
Wood got a great jump to start the second half, with Shane Collier supplying the ball to Baranoski on the left side. The fullback played it in, a Panthers defender flicked it backwards and Wood was up 2-0.
Then, the wave hit. Nicholas Palermo struck for the first of his two goals just 28 seconds later and all of the sudden, the helter-skelter Panthers were right back in the match.
“We made careless mistakes in the second half,” Wood all-PCL midfielder Bobby Hennessey said. “With the exception of the first 10 minutes in the second half we came out firing on all cylinders. The second half, they capitalized on a couple mistakes and we couldn’t do our job.”
Wood’s offense was like a bad reflection of itself in the second half. The fluid play from the first half was gone, guys couldn’t link passes and the final third became a graveyard for any crosses, long balls or attackers trying to dribble through the sea of black Panthers jerseys.
It put the Vikings in a complicated spot. They might have been able to slow the Strath Haven momentum by slowing the game down, but it would have gone against everything Wood had thrived on all year.
“I guess that’s what we could have changed, slowing the pace of the game down and trying to change the momentum all year,” Hennessey said. “But we do play really fast. They just got the best of us today.”
Palemro pounced on a poor pass from the back and buried the equalizing goal with 25:58 left in the second half. The Panthers then went up after Palermo drew a foul to grant them a free kick. Emmet Young sent a terrific ball into the box, where forward Nate Perrins got up and flicked it into the back of the net a split second before Wood keeper Connor Ford could punch the ball away.
“We didn’t win a lot of 50/50 balls, they came hard and aggressive and we did everything just too slow,” Wood coach Hugh Kelly said. “We didn’t find feet, we were random in our play. We created opportunities and chances the first half but the second half, not so much.”
It’s a tough ending for the senior-laden Vikings, but one they can take a lot of good from. Not only did the team reach the state semifinals for the second straight year, but it won the program’s first PCL title since the 2013 season.
They played a good brand of soccer predicated on tempo and ball movement and they played for each other. The defense was robust as well and all three phases of the field seemed to link right from the start of the season.
“It was a great group, we’re senior heavy but when they came in as freshmen I felt really good and thought we had a lot of talent,” Kelly said. “They worked really hard the last two and a half year to try and get us where we’re at with the program, being competitive not only in our own league but also our nonleague schedule.”
Wood plays as tough a nonleague schedule as anyone too and this group proved it could hold its own with anybody.
“It’s going to be a fun story to tell when we’re older or even away in college,” Taylor said. “It’s been a good experience.”
STRATH HAVEN 0 3 – 3
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 1 1 – 2
Goals: SH – Nick Palermo 2, Nate Perrins; AW – Ryan Morgan, Joe Baranoski