Top-seeded Con­estoga pre­vails

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

TREDYFFRIN When Lo­gan Schwartz checked in for the fi­nal time with 17 min­utes to play Satur­day, and again when Ma­son Miller en­tered with 10 left, the mes­sage from Con­estoga coach David Zim­mer­man was suc­cinct: Clos­ing time.

“The men­tal­ity is re­ally just to keep up the pres­sure,” Miller said. “We know that there’s only a few min­utes left in the game, and if we didn’t do any­thing, it would go to over­time. We just wanted to get a goal, put it away early and fin­ish the game off.”

As the last wave in Zim­mer­man’s 20-man ro­ta­tion plan, Miller and Schwartz de­liv­ered, the lat­ter ham­mer­ing home a beau­ti­fully taken goal in the 76th minute to see the top-seeded Pi­o­neers

over No. 9 Cen­tral Bucks East in a District 1 Class 4A quar­ter­fi­nal grudge match.

Schwartz took Zim­mer­man’s “clos­ing time” mantra to heart, and so Con­estoga’s new be­gin­ning (and a fifth PIAA tour­na­ment berth in seven sea­sons) came from Cen­tral Bucks East’s be­gin­ning’s end.

There’s no love lost be­tween two of the most suc­cess­ful teams around, a tan­ta­liz­ing matchup that popped off the page as soon as brack­ets were re­leased. Th­ese teams de­cided the District 1 (then Class AAA) ti­tle last year and met in the PIAA semis, the Pa­tri­ots win­ning both en route to a state crown and in­flict­ing the only blem­ishes on Con­estoga’s 2015 record. Some faces have changed, and Con­estoga (20-0) is now the side lav­ished with na­tional at­ten­tion, but emo­tions were still rubbed raw Satur­day.

“We got kicked out by them last year, and we needed to come back this year against them,” Con­estoga de­fender Mike McCarthy said. “… It was def­i­nitely in the back of our minds.”

“I was a part of that, and I re­mem­ber that we were their only two losses last year,” C.B. East de­fender Stephen Shee­han said. “If it wasn’t for us, they would’ve done what we did. And we knew com­ing in that they were go­ing to want re­venge. And we could tell out there, they knew who we were and what they wanted to do.”

The win moves Con­estoga into Wed­nes­day’s semi­fi­nals to take on No. 5 North Penn, which downed No. 4 Penns­bury, 2-1. C.B. East (13-5-3) slips into play­backs to vie for District 1’s fifth and fi­nal states berth.

With that emo­tional in­put and the ob­vi­ous tech­ni­cal abil­ity on dis­play, it’s no sur­prise free space was hard to come by. Chris Dono­van earned a rare glimpse of free acreage in the 76th down the right wing. He squared a cross-field ball that Miller fil­tered on to a vo­cal Schwartz. He took a touch in­side to his right foot and struck a shot that nes­tled in­side the post, one even East’s 6-foot-3 goalie Karl Band­low couldn’t stretch to deny.

“I saw Chris beat a guy down the line, then played Ma­son at the top of the box,” Schwartz said. “He let it go, and I just yelled ‘let’ for Nick (Jen­nings) and Nick let it got, and I just hit it as hard as I could and hoped it went in.”

“It was a beau­ti­ful fin­ish,” Miller said. “He was de­ter­mined and he knew where he was go­ing with it, so that helped him place it where he wanted.”

It took a mo­ment of bril­liance like Schwartz’s to frac­ture a stale­mate wrought by pun­ish­ing, cagey soc­cer on both sides, where few chances were gen­er­ated from open play.

East, un­der the di­rec­tion of for­mer U.S. Na­tional Team player and 1999 Daily Times Boys Soc­cer Player of the Year Jeremiah White (Haver­ford School), lamentably squan­dered sev­eral looks. Cen­ter back Will Eisold carved out a pair of open head­ers off set pieces that he couldn’t nod goal­ward. Shee­han de­liv­ered sev­eral tan­ta­liz­ing set-piece ser­vices, the best from 30 yards out in the 66th minute with a curler placed be­tween Con­estoga goalie Luke Smith and the on­rush­ing crowd, but there were no tak­ers.

The best chance, though, was spurned by Eric Quigley three min­utes be­fore Schwartz cap­i­tal­ized. Quigley did the hard work, shoul­der­ing off McCarthy and draw­ing Smith off his line on a sor­tie down the left chan­nel. But his left­footed at­tempt steered wide, graz­ing the out­side net­ting.

Con­estoga’s Will Klein missed a sim­i­lar at­tempt with his head in the first half, but the Pi­o­neers’ op­por­tu­ni­ties were fewer and fur­ther be­tween. They started to ramp up the pres­sure late, in­clud­ing a shot from pla­toon mid­fielder Jeff Charles that forced Band­low into a save.

Con­estoga’s win, a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive 1-0 vic­tory af­ter ban­ish­ing No. 17 Abing­ton in Thurs­day’s sec­ond round, is a means to a larger, cham­pi­onship end to the sea­son. But if you put aside the big-pic­ture logic mo­men­tar­ily, it’s a par­tic­u­larly grat­i­fy­ing in­ter­me­di­ate step.

“It was only a small step,” said McCarthy, es­pous­ing the long view. “I think we have big­ger plans. We have big­ger marks and goals this year.”

“Def­i­nitely, it’s a lot more spe­cial,” al­lowed Miller. “It’s very, very sweet, be­cause they beat us twice last year.”

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