Henderson beats the rain, blanks Penn Wood
Just as the last notes of the Star Spangled Banner echoed around J. Oscar Dicks Stadium, the rain hit. No mere drizzle, the torrential downpour carried on throughout the first half of Thursday night’s District 1 4A boys soccer playoff between host Henderson, the No. 2 seed, and No. 15 Penn Wood.
Despite the not-exactlypristine conditions, the Warriors put together about as clean a game as could be expected, and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 5-0 blanking of the Patriots.
In the quarterfinals, scheduled for Saturday at a time to be determined, Henderson will host No. 7 Lower Merion, a winner over Wissahickon earlier in the afternoon Wednesday.
“It was tough out there in the first half,” said Henderson freshman Kevin Kiefer, who notched a pair of goals for the Warriors. “With the rain coming down as hard as it was, once you got running hard against the win or looking up, it could be
hard to see. Balls were slippery, and long balls would skid. But you just have to play through it.”
But it was conditions both teams had to contend with, and neither team seemed to get much of an advantage or be disadvantaged because of it.
“Conditions were not the best, but both teams have to play in it,” said Penn Wood coach Al Poplawski. “Conditions aren’t an excuse. I’m proud of the way these kids played today. Things just didn’t go our way tonight.”
Kiefer opened the scoring a little over five minutes into the first half, finding the back of the net with 24:46 to play in the half. Frank DeRosa made it 2-0 headed into the break with a goal assisted by Richie Schlentz.
If the Warriors were feeling any rust from the extended layoff associated with a first round bye, it didn’t show. Henderson controlled possession for much of the the game, and on the rare occasion Penn Wood was able to get the ball across midfield, the Warriors’ backs and goalie Brady McSwain, who notched a couple highlight reel saves, kept the Patriots from finding the back of the net.
“We don’t think Brady gets the kind of recognition we believe he deserves,” said Henderson coach Sean Ryan. “With a team like we have, he doesn’t get a ton of save opportunities. But you saw tonight that when he needs to, he can make the spectacular stop.”
The Warriors added another three goals in the second half. Kiefer picked up his second just after the break. Thomas King made a nice cross to Aiden McFadden a few minutes later. Then finally, not thirty seconds after coming in off the bench, Gabe Scholl scored, with another assist to King.
Though the Patriots season ends with the loss, it had been one of the best seasons Penn Wood boys soccer has had.
“We’ve only been this far once before, about seven years ago, and that time we ran into the one seed,” said Poplawski. “When the season started, we were unsure how easy wins would be to come by. But we ran through the Del Val league, and won a district game. We have a lot of young kids on this team, and this experience will just make them hungry for more.”
The Warriors now move on to a game with Lower Merion with a guaranteed berth in the state tournament for the winner. The loser, while not eliminated, will have to work its way through a grueling playback bracket.
“Both us and Lower Merion will come in knowing there’s a spot in states on the line,” said Ryan. “I’m sure it will be a very competitive game, like all the quarterfinals in District 1 will be. It’s going to be a tough fight. We need to come in at the top of our game. If not, the reality is we’ll get beat.”
West Chester Henderson’s Frank DeRosa and Penn Wood’s Abdulla Barrie battle for a ball during Thursday’s playoff game.
Penn Wood’s James Nmah, left, and Henderson’s Max Zandi, right, vie for a ball Thursday night.