Phoenixville’s defense, Tucker’s two goals lift Phantoms to first ever PAC title

BUCKTOWN >> The Phoenixville boys’ soccer team came into 2017 with a veteran squad. But two first-year players, senior midfielder Kyle Tucker and freshman goalkeeper Gavin Perillo, proved to be what pushed the Phantoms over the top.

“We had a good framework coming in to this season,” Phoenixville coach Mike Cesarski said. “But adding a guy like Kyle Tucker, he was the perfect guy to put right in with what we had. He fit right into our system and he has raised everyone else’s effort around him, as well.”

Both Tucker and Perillo were on top of their games Thursday night, leading the Phantoms to a 3-1 victory over Spring Ford to capture the 2017 Pioneer Athletic Conference championship.

Phoenixville’s JT Stephens (28) celebrates after scoring the Phantoms’ third goal against Spring-Ford Thursday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Phoenixville jumped out to an early lead when Spring Ford back-passed to the keeper, which gave the Phantoms an indirect kick from four yards out just five minutes into the contest. The Rams packed the goal-line, but Tucker was able to tuck the ball over their head and under the crossbar.

Spring Ford controlled the ball for much of the first half, but Phoenixville extended their lead to 2-0 on another free kick by Tucker.

Phoenixville defenders Greg O’Neill, Clay Kopko and Blake Ericksen try to get in a block on the shot of Spring-Ford’s Nate Alban. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“We do a lot of work on free kicks during practice,” Tucker explained. “We knew coming into playoffs, we would have to execute these set plays that are given to us. The two we got, we certainly executed on.”

The Rams were finally able to get on the board late in the first half when a hand ball on Phoenixville gave the Rams a penalty kick. Senior midfielder Ronnie Minges capitalized on the kick, cutting the lead to 2-1.

“I think late in the first half, our legs got a bit heavy,” Cesarski said. “But once we made it to halftime, we came out in the second half reenergized.”

Phoenixville’s Kyle Tucker controls the ball as Spring-Ford’s Cole Dampf defends. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

That lone goal was all the offense Spring Ford could muster against the stout Phoenixville defense. Despite allowing just three corner kicks, the Rams ran a lot of set-pieces on long throw-ins from Rams’ center back Cole Dampf. Even though they allowed a few close calls, the Phantoms were able to spurn the Rams, time and time again.

“All of the stories have been written about the offense,” Tucker said. “But offense wins games and defense wins championships. All year, our back four were incredible and they were the ones who pulled out this victory for us.”

The Phantoms pulled away late in the game when JT Stevens thumped home Phoenixville’s third goal of the game on a corner kick that richocheted back to the face of goal, right to Stevens’ feet.

Phoenixville’s Kyle Tucker races toward the Phantoms’ fan section after scoring his second goal in the PAC championship. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Coming into Thursday night’s game, the Phantoms had lost just one contest in 2017, but Cesarski and his players still entered the championship game with a chip on their shoulders.

“Because we play in the Frontier Division, that may limit some of the respect we get,” Cesarski explained. “But I definitely viewed this championship as a possibility this year. We had shown this year we can play with any team in the PAC, so I was confident coming in to the playoffs.”

Still, the story of the night was Phoenixville’s defense, Perillo in goal with defenders Clay Kopko, Greg O’Neill, Blake Ericksen and Nick Sinapius forming the back four. For all of the fanfare and applause the Phantoms offense has received all year, it was the defense that held strong against an aggressive Spring Ford attack.

Phoenixville’s Kyle Tucker (9) and Tyler Siefer (6) leads the celebration after the Phantoms won the PAC boys soccer title. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Perillo finished the night with nine saves on 10 shots, including a few tough saves in the closing minutes to preserve the Phantoms victory.

“In big games, you just have to find a way to win,” Tucker said. “Defensively, we dug in and we really commanded the box and we definitely executed on our chances.”

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