Great Valley surges past Owen J. Roberts, 3-1

MALVERN – For a good 45-plus minutes of soccer Thursday night, the Owen J. Roberts boys squad dared to dream.

The Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Wildcats held a one-goal lead against defending champion Great Valley in their District 1 Class AAA Tournament opener, and keeper Zach Serbin was doing his best to keep it that way by refusing to yield as the Patriots laid siege to the OJR net.

Unfortunately for visiting Owen J. Roberts, its hope for a first-round upset was quickly dashed by a three-goal second-half barrage that carried Great Valley to a 3-1 victory.

Senior midfielder Kyle Hoops connected for two goals, including the go-ahead penalty kick with 25:39 left in the second half, as the 15th seeded Patriots (13-4-2) advanced to Saturday’s second-rounder at No. 2 seed Neshaminy (16-2).

Owen J. Roberts, the 18th seed, saw its season end at 14-7.

“They were fast, they were athletic, and they were physical,’ OJR coach Eric Wentzel said of the Patriots, who reached the PIAA-AAA semifinals last year. “They showed they were in the playoffs before.’

That composure was apparent even after the Wildcat struck first on a pretty goal 20:57 before the intermission, when freshman Matt Pron headed home a long direct kick from Jared Cooney.

“I definitely think it’s a comfort level knowing you’ve been through a bunch of playoff games,’ Great Valley coach Dave Moffett said. “You understand what the tension (level) is, and you understand it’s a full 80 minutes.

“We’re sitting there at halftime saying, ‘ Look, we’re creating opportunities; it’s going to come.”

The equalizer came with 33:39 remaining in the second half, when Hoops broke through the wall at the far post and deposited one in the back-left corner of the net.

Exactly eight minutes later, the Wildcats were whistled for a hand ball in the box, and Hoops buried the penalty kick.

“The Hoops kid was real good, and we knew that coming in,’ Wentzel said. “We tried to stop him. We did our best, but we just couldn’t come up with enough plays to stop him.’

“Kyle’s engine just runs constantly,’ said Moffett. “He not only goes from 18 to 18, but goal line to goal line. If we get on a counter, he’s going to be on the end of it. And if there’s anything to do defensively, he’s going to work back on it so hard and make sure he’s the guy stopping it.’

Despite a game effort from Serbin, who made 12 saves, the Wildcats couldn’t stop the Patriots’ second-half surge, as Jack Hajnik provided the final margin by pouncing on a loose ball out front and touching it home with 15:24 left in the contest.

“They came all game,’ Serbin said of the Patriots, who finished with a 23-9 shot advantage. “I tried to do as much as I could, but their midfield was winning balls and they just kept coming in with shots.’

“Zach had an unbelievable year, and tonight he showed that he’s one of the best goalies in the area,’ Wentzel said. “He made some great saves and kept us in it the first half. And I thought he played great in the second half.

“There’s nothing you can do on a penalty kick. I sure hope it was a hand ball, but it is what it is and it got called. We could have overcome it, but we didn’t and they got another one. Hats off to Great Valley, they’ve got a good program and good coach.’

Great Valley also finished with a 5-0 advantage in corners, with Patriots keeper Aidan Claffey making four saves.

“I’m proud of these kids, seeing how far they came from where they started last year,’ said Wentzel, who bid farewell to senior starters Ben Huzzard, Alex Jennion, Nate Raban, Nate Smith and Serbin. “I’m disappointed right now for them, but when you look back on it I think we’re going to be happy with what we accomplished.’

“I would definitely say we can hang our hat what we did on this season,’ said Serbin. “We barely won any games in our division last year and didn’t even make districts, so this season was something we can be proud of with the PAC-10 championship and everything.’

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