Con­estoga looks for third state ti­tle

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bruce Adams badams@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @mline­s­ports on Twit­ter

Con­estoga, head­ing into PIAA Class AAAA boys soc­cer state cham­pi­onship fi­nal with a sparkling 24-1 record, is pre­par­ing for a stiff chal­lenge when it faces El­iz­a­beth­town Satur­day at 6:30 p.m. at Her­shey­park Sta­dium.

El­iz­a­beth­town (22-4-1), the Dis­trict 3 run­nerup, has been something of a team of destiny to this point. The Bears reached the Dis­trict 3 cham­pi­onship fi­nal for the first time ever, got their first-ever state tour­na­ment win Nov. 8, then fol­lowed that up with vic­to­ries by penalty kick against Dis­trict One fourth-place fin­isher Coun­cil Rock North and Dis­trict One cham­pion West Ch­ester Henderson.

Henderson, the only team to pin a loss on the Pi­o­neers (in the Dis­trict One fi­nals), had a 12-1 edge on El­iz­a­beth­town in shots on goal, and a 12-1 dif­fer­en­tial in cor­ner shots. But they couldn’t put away the Bears, as El­iz­a­beth­town ju­nior goalie Austin Den­linger made more than a dozen saves, some of them high­light-

film qual­ity.

“We don’t want to un­der­es­ti­mate El­iz­a­beth­town,” said Con­estoga head coach David Zim­mer­man. “This is go­ing to be like a home game for them. They’re only 10 min­utes from Her­shey, with maybe 1,000 fans com­ing out and a big band (200 mem­bers) as well. If their fans turn out, a big crowd can en­er­gize a team.”

El­iz­a­beth­town is led by head coach James Sostack, who in 23 years at the helm has posted more than 200 wins and led the Bears to 19 ap­pear­ances in the Dis­trict 3 tour­na­ment. On of­fense, mid­fielder Braden Krei­der and ju­nior for­wards Adan Cabr­eraPerez and David Shank have been pro­duc­tive.

The Bears are 5-0 this post­sea­son in games that have gone to over­time or PKs, an in­ter­est­ing statis­tic for a team that reg­u­larly ro­tates just three play­ers off the bench,

Of course, the Pi­o­neers are pretty good late in the game too. Con­estoga has scored nine game-win­ning goals in the last 10 min­utes of games or in over­time this sea­son.

This is the third time Con­estoga has ap­peared in the PIAA state fi­nals. In 1988, the Pi­o­neers beat Lower Me­rion to earn their first state ti­tle; and in 2011, Con­estoga edged Up­per St. Clair, 1-0, on a sec­ond-half goal by T-Ben Don­nie to win an­other state crown.

Zim­mer­man coached the 2011 PIAA state cham­pion team, and re­mem­bers the riveting state cham­pi­onship fi­nal against St. Clair very well.

“T-Ben scored his goal about one minute into the sec­ond half, and at the time I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘Now we’ve got to hold the lead for the next 39 min­utes,’” said Zim­mer­man. “It was a real nail-biter.”

Con­estoga ju­nior Nick Jen­nings, who scored the gamewin­ning goal in the state semi­fi­nal against North Al­legheny Tues­day, was in at­ten­dance at the 2011 state cham­pi­onship fi­nal at Her­shey­park Sta­dium, as a sixth-grade stu­dent and fan.

“It was a great at­mos­phere,” said Jen­nings. “I re­mem­ber the game be­ing played un­der the lights, T-Ben Don­nie scor­ing the game-win­ning goal, and the big Her­shey bar they brought out at the end of the game.

“This game [Satur­day] is huge for us. It’s something we’ve been work­ing for since mid-Au­gust. On Satur­day, we want to leave it on the field for 80 min­utes.”

Satur­day’s game will be par­tic­u­larly mean­ing­ful for the Con­estoga se­nior trio known as the “Three Ami­gos” - de­fender Gabe Harms (an Ohio State com­mit), for­ward Ma­son Miller (Col­gate) and mid­fielder Blaise Mi­lanek (Le­high). The Pi­o­neers’ state semi­fi­nal win Tues­day was the 25th post-sea­son game in a Con­estoga uni­form for each of them.

Mi­lanek said, “It re­ally means something to me that I get to play with these guys the whole team - for an­other cou­ple of days.”

The Pi­o­neers’ 1-0 win against North Al­legheny Tues­day in Cham­bers­burg was par­tic­u­larly sweet, as Con­estoga lost in the state semi­fi­nal last fall.

“See­ing Nick Jen­nings score that goal was awe­some, and when the game was over, all the mem­o­ries came back from [the state semi­fi­nal loss] last year,” said Mi­lanek. “The state fi­nal will be closer to home [than Cham­bers­burg], and I’m hop­ing a lot more of our fans will come out to the game and sup­port us.”

Jen­nings said, “There’s been a lot of pos­i­tiv­ity the last cou­ple of days at school since the state semi­fi­nal game. Teach­ers and other stu­dents have been com­ing up to us, wish­ing us well. It’s been up­lift­ing in the class­room.

“On Satur­day, we’ll stick to what we’ve done dur­ing the sea­son, and stay calm.”

PETE BAN­NAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Con­estoga’s Ma­son Miller cel­e­brates his game-win­ning goal against Park­land in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA boys soc­cer cham­pi­onships. The Pi­o­neers will face El­iz­a­beth­town in the fi­nals at Her­shey­park Sta­dium on Satur­day.

PETE BAN­NAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Con­estoga’s Gabe Harms, left, bat­tles with Park­land’s Collin Duff ear­lier in the state play­offs.

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