Tigers overpower Pottsgrove
Northwestern’s opponents tend to focus on striker JD Haaf, and for good reason.
In leading the Tigers to Colonial League and District 11 Class AA titles, the senior amassed a single-season best 43 goals, putting him less than a handful away from setting the school’s career scoring record.
But in the first round of the PIAA Boys’ Soccer Championships, Northwestern showed District 1 champion Pottsgrove that Haaf’s not the only one other teams need to be concerned about.
Led by Kenny Gawelko’s first half hat trick, the Tigers cruised to a historic 6-0 win over the Falcons in what proved to be an all-around dominating performance.
“This win was huge,” said Northwestern head coach Nate Hunsicker. “Boys soccer at our school has never actually won a state playoff game, so just to get the victory tonight is just big for the boys. They’ve been working so hard, accomplished so many great things this season, but this is, for the time being, icing on the cake.”
With Pottsgrove marking Haaf, The Tigers found plenty of open space to work.
“From the scouting that we did, we thought they would be a little more susceptible going down the wings, and we have great speed on the wings,” said Hunsicker. “We knew that if we would be able to get the ball finding feet, making plays in the corners then sending the ball across, that opportunities would present themselves.
“Our outside-mids are speed demons, and it showed tonight.”
The strategy worked to perfection, as one of those speedsters, Andrew Goodolf, opened the scoring less than 10 minutes into the game to give the Tigers an early lead.
Northwestern’s (23-1) relentless pressure continued throughout the first half and simply overwhelmed the Pottsgrove defense.
Gawelko took advantage the scoring opportunities, notching his first goal on a superb individual effort at the 15:39 mark of the first half. The sophomore completed his hat trick less than 10 minutes later, capitalizing on a rebound from teammate Daniel Hallingstad’s shot before scoring his third goal off a corner from Brett Scott to give the Tigers a commanding 4-0 advantage going into halftime.
“We were ready for him (Haaf),” said Pottsgrove head coach Jay Witkowski. “But they have more. I think they have two or three guys that are very similar to him (Haaf), and they really get after it. They seem like they’re a team on a little bit of a mission.
“They had a good game plan, they defend, they’re patient, and when they get in the offensive third (of the field) they really go at you. I thought we were ready for (Haaf) up top, but I don’t think we were ready for them to have two or three other guys like that.”
Haaf finally got free early in the second half, scoring on two long breakaways less than two minutes apart to set the final tally.
“They had to push numbers up a little bit,” Hunsicker said of the Pottsgrove defense, “and to have one guy be accountable for him is a tough job for any defender.”
With the victory, Northwestern will now face District 3 runner-up Gettysburg, which earned a 2-0 first round win over Lansdale Catholic, in Saturday’s quarterfinal.
“We definitely have momentum, but they’re going to be a great team, probably the best we’ve played all year,” said Haaf. “We’re going to have to come out and be ready to play from whistle-to-whistle and give it everything we’ve got.”
WIN-4-WYATT ... Northwestern players continued wearing “Win-4-Wyatt” on their gear in support of fifth-grader Wyatt Newhard, a fifth-grader at Weisenberg Elementary battling cancer and currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “We’re just supporting him and going out there for him,” said Haaf. “That was definitely on our mind.”
CLOSING IN ... With his two goals, Haaf now has 45 this season and is just three away from setting Northwestern’s career record.
UNTOUCHABLE ... Since a 1-0 loss to Salisbury on Oct. 1, Northwestern has won 11 consecutive matches. The Tigers have outscored opponents 36-3 during that span.