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Defense all Aces as Lower Merion tops PW in District 1-4A 2nd round

Lower Merion's Max Shapiro fields a pass as Plymouth Whitemarsh's Andrew Stricklin defends during their District 1-4A second round game on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

LOWER MERION >> Lower Merion’s boys soccer team has put a lot of pride in its defense this season.

After netting an early goal Thursday afternoon, the Aces were willing to put that defense to work against Plymouth Whitemarsh. When a team can stick to its plan, good things will often follow and that’s just what Lower Merion got.

The Aces held PW to just a single shot on goal as they rode that one goal to a 1-0 win over the Colonials in the second round of the District 1-4A boys soccer tournament.

“We just focused on shutting down their attack,” Aces fullback Thomas Podrasky said. “We knew they had some key players up top we were going to have to worry about. I think we did a good job, they didn’t really have that many shots on net, so it was successful.”

Podrasky had his hands full defensively covering the flanks, but found the time to give the Aces all the scoring they would need just six minutes into the contest. A long throw specialist, Podrasky fired on into the box on the near post that glanced off PW’s keeper and into the net.

Plymouth Whitemarsh goalie Patrick Corpus leaps for the ball in front of Lower Merion’s Cole Sanchez during their District 1-4A second round game on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

The game began in a light rain that subsided near the end of the first half.

It wasn’t the first time Podrasky has scored off a direct throw in his career, but the senior conceded it was a rare enough occurrence that he’s still surprised when it happens. His intent was simply to give his team a chance to score early.

“It’s pretty hectic in the box when you throw it in there,” Podrasky said. “Sometimes I’m looking for someone, sometimes I’m looking to get it in and hope the chaos produces something.”

From there, it was all on Lower Merion’s defense. The Aces didn’t generate all that many chances themselves and PW keeper Patrick Corpus managed three saves on their other attempts.

“After that tough goal in the first half and especially in the second half, they came out and brought everybody behind midfield and played defense the whole time,” PW coach Jeff Heaton said. “They have a good backline. We had some good throughballs, a couple touches one way or the other and we get a breakaway.”

Lower Merion’s defense did a great job covering, so whenever a PW player got the ball, the initial defender had plenty of support behind him. The Aces topped PW 4-0 in the first game of the season, but LM coach Nico Severini knew teams change so much in 10 weeks, it wasn’t prudent to expect the same.

“This is our 18th game now and we’ve developed extreme chemistry in the backfield,” Podrasky said. “We know if someone’s stepping that the other person has to get back and support them. I’d say that’s one of the key reasons we haven’t given up many goals this season.”

Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Alex Lefkowitz dribbles up field near Lower Merion’s Max Shapiro during their District 1-4A second round game on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

PW was looking to get wingers Alex Lefkowitz and Jaocbe Sandcroft in with through balls or build play with quick passing. While sound in theory, with Lower Merion committing numbers in defense, it often led to passing sequences being broken up before finding the desired target.

While the Colonials were coming in riding the emotions of a 2-0 win over Abington in the first round, the Aces had a first-round bye. Podrasky said the team had a good week of practice, and almost treated it as another preseason.

“We were pretty focused and ready to produce a very good performance on the day,” Severini said. “We know in soccer, anything can happen and a one-goal lead, or any lead, you have to play to protect that.”

PW will graduate 12 seniors, but Heaton said there is a good core coming up through the JV and middle school ranks that will help bolster the roster. Heaton, who took over the program mere days before last season began, saw his guys come together over the course of the season.

After not making the postseason last year and graduating 13 seniors, the Colonials may have exceeded some outside projections, but played up to standards they set for themselves.

“Our team this year really grew into quite a tight-knit family,” Heaton said. “We asked them to play a formation we had never played before. We lost to this 4-0 to start the year, so from our record to the outcome here today, we really grew as a team. I’m very proud of them.”

Lower Merion’s Cole Sanchez and Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Andrew Stricklin chase down a loose ball during their District 1-4A second round game on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

Lower Merion hosts Central Bucks West — a 3-2 winner over Central Bucks East — in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

“Last year we lost in the last three minutes of the quarterfinals, so we’re all pretty excited and ready to come out and prove we can get past this round and make a good run,” Podrasky said.

PW will have a different look next season, but getting to the second round of the postseason, and coming a few chances away from taking it to extra time, should only motivate the Colonials to compete at the conference and district level.

“Today’s game could have gone either way and that would have put us in the final eight,” Heaton said. “We have some good talent coming up and with strong coaching, this program should be there year after year. We have Abington coming in next year, so that will make (the SOL American) even better. We’ve got bright things coming up.”

LOWER MERION 1, PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH 0
LOWER MERION 1 0 – 1
PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH 0 0 -0
Goals: LM – Thomas Podrasky. Shots: LM – 4, PW – 0.

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