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Radnor, Strath Haven a win away from state finals

Strath Haven's Nicholas Palermo, seen scoring in the District 1 Class 3A opener in October, has been a key cog in the Panthers' run to the PIAA semifinals. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Only two Delco schools have ever been represented in PIAA boys soccer finals. Perhaps it’s no surprise that those two programs remain the last ones standing this fall, each one win away from breaking a decade-and-a-half Delco absence from Hershey.

A finals date is on the line for both Strath Haven and Radnor Tuesday. Haven (15-6-2) gets District 12 champ Archbishop Wood (19-4) in the Class 3A semifinal at West Chester East. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Radnor (19-3-2) has the longer trip, venturing to Chambersburg to take on District 7’s Seneca Valley in a 6:30 start in the Class 4A semifinals.

Both programs have history to build on. Strath Haven owns five state titles, winning in the old AAA (big-school) classification in 1986, 1991, 1995, 1996 and 2001. They also lost the 1992 final.

Those triumphs under legendary coach Mike Barr included current coach Ryan O’Neill on the field, O’Neill a two-time All-Delco and the Daily Times Player of the Year in 1995.

The most recent Delco finalist, though, was Radnor, which won the 2004 Class AA title. It takes on a team in Seneca Valley (19-2-1) with a more recent history in Hershey, losing in the 2015 Class AAAA final to Central Bucks East. Their journey included beating Springfield in the semifinals at Chambersburg that year.

Strath Haven’s style has been to go on the attack. That Panthers have scored 68 goals in 23 matches this season and have yet to be shut out. They are fresh off scoring five goals against District 4 champion Athens, which had allowed five goals all season.

In five postseason games, striker Nate Perrins has 14 goals, including the overtime game-winners in the District 1 final against Holy Ghost Prep and the states opener against Mechanicsburg at East. Archbishop Wood is a win away from its second state final after eliminating Holy Ghost, 3-1, in the quarters.

Radnor’s route has been just as filled with drama. The Raiders have a penchant for falling behind and then recovering. They spotted Cumberland Valley two goals in the states opener before notching a 3-2 come-from-behind win. In Saturday’s quarterfinal against State College, the Raiders trailed in the 14th minute.

“I think it’s our composure that really helps us in those times that we’re down by one or down by two,” said midfielder Jake Lee, who scored the equalizer against State College. “Coach (Joe) Caruolo really helps us keep composed and self-aware that we’re in these games no matter what and try to find a way back.”

One of the keys is the Raiders’ defensive rigidity. Against Cumberland Valley, State College and in their district opener with West Chester Henderson, they conceded goals in the first half and then tightened up to post second-half shutouts. They didn’t allow a goal in two playback contests, blanking North Penn and Lower Merion on the road by 1-0 scores to nab District 1’s fifth states berth. The in-game resilience they’ve showed seems baked into the journey they’ve taken.

“Whatever happens in the game, Coach Caruolo knows the game well, so he helps us play around it, play through it,” said David Azzarano, the midfielder who scored the second goal against State College. “We’ve been getting the job done against really good teams lately. We want to keep it rolling.”

Seneca Valley has been no stranger to tight games in the postseason, defeating Abington, 1-0, in the quarters after a 3-2 double-overtime victory over Hempfield in the opener.

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