Boys soccer beats SV in district playoffs
The latest battle in Northwestern Lehigh’s quest for a return to the boys PIAA soccer tournament turned out to look more like a skirmish than a full-fledged battle, but make no mistake about it, the Tigers were in a battle.
Northwestern turned a 1-0 halftime deficit into a 4-1 win and a trip to the Class 3A semifinals in District 11.
Play in the first half was pretty even between the two teams, but turned in favor of Saucon Valley when Eric Brown got a look at the net from the right front and decided to push the ball across the goal toward the left front corner. The decision proved to be a good one and the ball tucked itself just behind the post to give the Panthers a 1-0 edge.
Even though the lead was small, Northwestern began to show some frustration late in the first half and it disrupted their play. Saucon Valley was dropping five and sometimes, six players, into defense making it difficult for the Tigers to penetrate toward the goal.
Northwestern calmed down at halftime and came out looking to move the ball through defenders and was able to work the ball to Colin Coffield, who put a shot past goalkeeper Nicholas Snead to tie the game at 1-1 with just under 31 minutes left in regulation.
“I don’t take too much credit,” joked head coach Nate Hunsicker about what he said at halftime to turn things around. “At times this season, we’ve had some really great build-ups and chances that we just couldn’t connect on and find the back of the net, so there definitely was some frustration building up there.
“We used that as part of our halftime speech and told them ‘we’re putting ourselves in a position to make things happen and it will come together soon enough.’”
While Hunsicker’s halftime speech wasn’t fiery, he was right on with the part about needing just one goal to open things up for his team.
Eight minutes after Coffield found the net, Jason Blaine did the same to give the Tigers their first lead of the game at 2-1. Slowly, Saucon Valley had to release more players out of their defensive zone to focus on scoring and the Tigers used that to their advantage. Coffield had an open look from 25-yards out and fired a shot to the top part of the goal and over the head of Snead to put Northwestern up 3-1.
“Finishing was what was getting us and we just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net, but when we came out in the second half and got some points on the board it turned around. It feels good to win against Saucon,” said Coffield of his team’s turnaround.
In the 29th minute of the first half, Jeff Garcia played a chip shot over Saucon Valley defenders that was positioned perfectly and bounced to the back of the net to stretch the lead to three goals.
“We outplayed them in the first half and the score was not indicative of how that first half was played. We easily could have been up a goal or two ourselves, if not more,” believes Hunsicker. “In the second half, we finally found the back of the net and I had said ‘once we find the first one, more will come.’ The key was to get that first one and break the ice and open up the flow of the game a bit more.”
The win served as a bit of revenge for Northwestern since it was Saucon Valley that ended the Tigers’ district run last season in a 1-0 game for the District 11 championship. To add to that, the Panters downed Northwestern during the regular season and the Tigers were determined to flip the script this time around.
“They knocked us out of districts last year and when we got the first goal, we really wanted to show them that we deserved that title last year,” said Coffield. “It does feel really good to have come back like that and to score four goals.”
The Tigers will look to change the script again in the semifinals. In the league tournament, they came in as a four-seed and lost to top-seeded Moravian Academy in the semis. Again, Northwestern is the four-seed in the District 11 playoffs and they’re facing the tournament’s top-seed, Blue Mountain in the semifinals.
“Everybody who is left at this point in the tournament is here for a reason, so there are no easy games,” said Hunsicker of drawing the number-one seed for their next game.
District 11 semifinal
The Tigers beat Blue Mountain Tuesday night to advance to Thursday’s District 11 Class 2A titlegame.
After seeing a three-year run as district champs end last season, Northwestern is hungry to not leave empty-handed this time.
“We’re thrilled to be back in the district final,” said senior Jason Blaine. “We were there last year; we’ve been there a few years in a row now. But last year was disappointing, didn’t go the way we wanted.
“We’re hungry, that’s the best way to describe it. The whole team is ready to give everything, and we know what we want on Thursday.”
The fourth-seeded Tigers will play No. 2 seed Southern Lehigh Thursday at a site and time to be determined.
Blaine scored Northwestern’s first goal in Tuesday’s semifnials with 27:27 left in the first half.
Ryan Baker made it 2-0 with 12:53 left in the game.