PITTSBURGH — Seneca Valley was by no means surprised at the opposing strategy it encountered in Saturday’s WPIAL Class 4A boys soccer championship game against Pine-Richland.
But the quick-strike Raiders were averaging nearly five goals per contest and were counting on their method of play winning out.
On this day, the sixth-seeded Rams executed their game plan masterfully. Pine-Richland’s Ben Rishel scored in the 60th minute, the game’s lone score as the 1-0 decision at Highmark Stadium denied the Raiders a third straight district championship.
SV had defeated the Rams twice in the regular season, by scores of 3-2 and 5-0.
“We knew we had to be tough with them,” said P-R coach Jordan Wiegand. “We had to put pressure on them (defensively) and make it challenging for them.”
The Rams (15-4-1) aimed to slow the Raiders down and defend them with a packed back line. It worked as the Raiders were held without a goal for the first time since losing, 1-0, to Conestoga in last year’s state final.
“They played defense with numbers, exactly what we thought they would do,” said Raiders coach George Williams, “but we didn’t do a good job of speeding things up. We allowed their strategy to be effective.”
Rishel’s goal came immediately after a Rams’ free kick from 40 yards. He took possession of the ball in front of the right side of the net and placed a shot past SV goalkeeper Ryan Krumenacker.
Less than a minute later, SV came very close to tying the game. A Raiders’ corner kick was headed twice, the second instance from senior midfielder Beaux Lizewski was directed at high speed straight toward the net, but Rams goalie Cadan Bennett made one of his 11 saves.
SV’s last gasp was a free kick taken by Krumenacker near midfield with 39 seconds left, but the ball was never put on net.
“Not a lot of teams are able to go pound for pound at each position against a team like Seneca Valley,” Wiegand said. “I’m proud of our guys.”
SV senior midfielder Connor Oros was in the midst of or near several of the team’s scoring opportunities.
One of them came in the fifth minute, when Oros put a header near the right side of the net, but a Rams defender was there to deny the attempt, which resulted in a corner kick for the Raiders. That, too, was turned away.
Bennett made his first save 10 minutes later after defender Jeremiah Laslavic’s free kick from 60 yards reached the goalkeeper.
“We just couldn’t break through their back line,” Oros said. “It’s a tough loss, but it is not the end of the world. We have a lot to be proud of.”
Krumenacker stopped six shots for the Raiders (18-1-1), who will begin play in the state playoffs on Tuesday.