Northwestern Lehigh hammers Pottsgrove 6-0 in PIAA Class AA first round

WEST CHESTER >> The Pottsgrove boys soccer team entered Tuesday’s PIAA Class AA Tournament opener wary of high-scoring Northwestern Lehigh senior J.D. Haaf.

As it turned out, Haaf wasn’t the only one the Falcons had to worry about.

The District 11 champion Tigers made their first state tourney appearance a memorable one, delivering an offensive onslaught en route to a 6-0 victory on the rain-soaked turf of Henderson High.

Sophomore Kenneth Gawelko scored three first-half goals and Haaf connected twice in the second half as Northwestern Lehigh (23-1) won its 11th straight game to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinal.

District 1 champion Pottsgrove, which wound up being outshot 13-4, finished its campaign at 13-10.

“We were focused on (Haaf), but they had two more guys coming through that were virtually the same as him,” Pottsgrove coach Jay Witkowski said. “They had very good players, they were pretty deep and they were very well-rounded. I didn’t see a weakness.”

The Tigers seized control from the outset, as Andrew Goodolf scored in the 10th minute.

“We knew the first goal in a game like tonight was going to be huge,” NW Lehigh coach Nate Hunsicker said. “And to get it so early on was even more important.”

Then Gawelko went to work in a big way. He netted his first goal 15:39 before the intermission, and a little more than five minutes later drove home a carom off Dan Hallingstad’s initial shot. The

Tigers upped the lead to 4-0 with 6:03 left in the half when Gawelko was credited with another goal as he crashed the box on Brett Scott’s corner kick that got re-directed into the Pottsgrove net.

“Kenny’s not one to sleep on offensively,” Hunsicker said. “He’s no slouch. The ball fell at his feet in some very opportune situations, and he’s a very capable finisher.”

The Falcons, meanwhile, couldn’t muster any of the magic that carried them to their first district crown since 2008.

“We had a game plan, but when we came out it didn’t work so good and we weren’t able to adjust,” Pottsgrove junior midfielder Will Kaiser said.

“I think their speed threw us off,” Witkowski said. “They were really direct going to the goal. I think they put in three of their first four shots, and we were sitting in a desperate situation after that. And I don’t think we really put a good game together.”

Things didn’t get any better over the final 40 minutes, as Haaf showed off some of the wizardry that has resulted in 45 goals this season.

Haaf broke free and deposited one into the back left corner 4:01 into the second half, then got loose again 1:47 later, resulting in a nifty left-footed finish that provided the final margin.

“We felt if we played a very strong possession game, which has been our bread and butter all year, that we liked our chances,” Hunsicker said. “We found feet througout the night and created opportunities for ourselves.”

The Falcons bid farewell to six seniors – Noah Lear, Nathan Miller, Justin Toth, Claudio Paez, Ben Hnat and Tyler Van Horn – who were a big part of an improbable journey that began with an 0-3 start but culminated in another Pioneer Athletic Conference Frontier Division title, District 1 gold and a trip to states.

“We did a great job of turning it around after that shaky start,” said Kaiser, who will lead a charge of eight returning starters. “We knew at the beginning of this season it was going to take a lot of rebuilding, and that’s exactly what happened.”

And even a soggy, subpar finale couldn’t diminish an auspicious autumn for the Falcons.

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