Per­fect Pi­o­neers

Mi­lanek’s OT header clinches un­blem­ished 18-0 year for Con­estoga

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Neil Geoghe­gan ngeoghe­gan@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @NeilMGeoghe­gan on Twit­ter

TREDYF­FRIN >> Win­ning the Cen­tral League reg­u­lar sea­son crown and earn­ing a pos­si­ble No. 1 seed for the up­com­ing District 1 Play­offs sim­ply wasn’t enough for the Con­estoga boys’ soc­cer squad.

The un­beaten Pi­o­neers wanted to make an even big­ger state­ment on se­nior night at elec­tric Teamer Field, and se­nior mid­fielder Blaise Mi­lanek de­liv­ered, scor­ing the game win­ner less than three min­utes into the over­time ses­sion to cap off a 2-1 vic­tory over vis­it­ing Lower Me­rion on Tues­day evening.

“It’s my se­nior year and I’m lucky to go out on a bang like this,” Mi­lanek said. “I couldn’t be prouder of this team. It was quite a way to end it.”

Con­estoga (11-0) had al­ready wrapped up the Cen­tral League crown. Now 18-0 over­all, the Pi­o­neers be­came the first boys soc­cer team in school his­tory to complete the reg­u­lar sea­son with­out a blem­ish.

“You want to try to ac­com­plish as many things as pos­si­ble in a sea­son,” said Con­estoga head coach David Zim­mer­man. “We al­ready had the Cen­tral League ti­tle in our back pocket, but hav­ing this claim to fame is some­thing that can’t be bet­tered.”

Seeded sev­enth in the lat­est District 1 power rank­ings, Lower Me­rion com­pletes the reg­u­lar sea­son at 8-2-1 (12-2-2 over­all), and like Con­estoga, has high hopes for the post­sea­son.

“There is a rea­son these two teams have the records that they have,” said Aces head coach Nico

Sev­erini. “There was a lot of good soc­cer out there, a lot of good pass­ing and good cre­ativ­ity.”

“Our boys stepped up to the chal­lenge, but fell a lit­tle short at the end.”

At the 7:36 mark of the OT, Mi­lanek got his head on a throw-in by team­mate Will Klein and de­posited it into the back of the net. The gamewin­ner sparked a rau­cous cel­e­bra­tion, with the large and bois­ter­ous stu­dent sec­tion storm­ing the field.

“I just made a bee-line for the far post, I hit it, and I saw the ball in the back of the net,” Mi­lanek re­called. “I didn’t re­ally know if I had scored or if I had the as­sist, I just knew that we won.”

Zim­mer­man added: “We talked that this game may be de­cided on an ugly goal, where the ball was just bounc­ing around in the box, so in prac­tice we’ve worked on just get­ting any body part on the ball in those types of sit­u­a­tions.”

In con­trast, the early go­ing in both the first and sec­ond halves weren’t nearly as much fun for the large par­ti­san crowd. Less than 10 min­utes into the ac­tion, the Pi­o­neers found them­selves in a 1-0 hole on an own goal by ju­nior de­fender Mike McCarthy. It came when McCarthy mis­tak­enly redi­rected a cor­ner kick by the Aces’ Alex Moureaud into the ’Stoga goal.

Mid­way through the first half, the Pi­o­neers knot­ted it at 1-1 when Chris Dono­van beat Lower Me­rion goal­keeper Sebastian Con­nolly to a loop­ing cen­ter­ing pass from team­mate Ro­drigo Martinez. Dono­van’s header popped over Con­nolly’s head and in. It was the ju­nior’s 13th goal of the sea­son.

Of­fi­cially, the Aces never did reg­is­ter a shot on goal against Con­estoga, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have scor­ing chances. In one fren­zied 34-sec­ond span in the sec­ond half, Lower Me­rion’s Kirk Robin­son and Max Shapiro each had prime op­por­tu­ni­ties, but their ef­forts sailed over the cross­bar.

“To Lower Me­rion’s credit, in the sec­ond half they re­ally had the bet­ter of the play for most of the half,” Zim­mer­man ac­knowl­edged. “It wasn’t un­til the end of reg­u­la­tion, where we had a surge.

“I think they were get­ting a lit­tle tired. We do have a lot of good play­ers, so we can af­ford to ro­tate and we don’t drop-off too much. It al­lows us to keep our guys fresh, so that by over­time, they still have legs.”

The Pi­o­neers very nearly won it in the fi­nal sec­onds of reg­u­la­tion. Lower Me­rion’s Thomas Po­drasky was is­sued a yel­low card with six sec­onds on the clock, and Mi­lanek was awarded a free kick. Af­ter touch­ing a to­tal of four Con­estoga play­ers, the ball found its way into the net … but time had ex­pired.

“Will Klein made a great save when it looked like it was go­ing out of bounds, and (Lo­gan Schwartz) headed it across, and Jack Mur­phy put it in,” ex­plained Mi­lanek. “But the ref said that it came af­ter the buzzer.

“But at that point, I was think­ing that all of the mo­men­tum had started to swing to­ward us. I just knew it was com­ing. It was just a mat­ter of time.”

It all set the stage for over­time Mi­lanek’s hero­ics.

“Any­thing can hap­pen in an over­time match, and it comes down to who­ever makes the first mis­take or who­ever has fortune on their side,” Sev­erini said. “Tonight weren’t on the fortune side of it.”

Af­ter­wards, both head coaches talked about the Friday Night­like at­mos­phere at Teamer Field.

“The crowd at­mos­phere was phe­nom­e­nal. We al­ways look for­ward these to big-time games, es­pe­cially head­ing into the play­offs,” Sev­erini said.

“It was a great crowd,” Zim­mer­man added. “We talked about this be­ing a dress re­hearsal for the play­offs with the at­mos­phere, the en­ergy and a very good op­po­nent. You couldn’t ask for a bet­ter reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale to get your­self ready for the post­sea­son.

“I think this should get us the No. 1 seed in the district. That was a goal. You want to have the best pos­si­ble path in the play­offs.”

ANNE NEBORAK — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Above, Lower Me­rion’s Alex Moureaud (10) tries to keep Con­estoga’s Jack Davis, Tommy Aus­lan­der, Nate Xu and Gabe Harms away from a ball dur­ing Tues­day’s game at Teamer Field. Be­low, Blaise Mi­lanek looks up­field. Mi­lanek scored the game-win­ner in over­time for Con­estoga.

ANNE NEBORAK — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Con­estoga’s Blaise Mi­lanek heads a ball and keeps it away from Lower Me­rion’s Kirk Robin­son as David Smith looks on and Con­estoga’s Jack Davis looks for his chance to get into the play.

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