A run to the PIAA’s final four came to an end for North Star, which fell to Sewickley Academy 5-0 Tuesday night at Hempfield Area High School in a Class A boys soccer semifinal.
The Cougars end their season with a 20-3 mark and a second trip to the state semifinals in four seasons.
While the end result was not pleasant, the path to Tuesday’s match was a great one.
That path was also evidence of the tradition that the squad’s seniors helped maintain - and even build on - while at North Star.
“The program instills working hard during training and that’s the way you play is the way you train,” North Star coach Chad Duryea said. “Those seniors have some of the biggest hearts that I’ve ever had the pleasure to coach.”
Sewickley Academy (21-3) returns to the state final after falling to Mountain View in last year’s match.
The Panthers held the advantage in opportunities throughout the game’s first 20 minutes, testing a spirited North Star defense and Cougars goalkeeper Kyle Louthan.
Eventually the Panthers cracked Louthan as Geoffrey Schuchardt took possession in the Cougars’ third, hesitated his progress before sliding a shot to the lower left of the goal.
A breakaway marker from Anthony Stinson followed 44 seconds later.
The dam burst in the 28th minute when J.P. Bowell sent a shot past Louthan just 75 seconds after Schuchardt’s goal.
“That was the turn of the tide,” Sewickley Academy coach James Boone said. “I preach to the guys, get one then another then another. Especially in a state playoff game.”
Sewickley Academy upped its lead to 4-0 in the 36th minutes on a goal from Matt Teitlebaum.
“I thought we played even with them for the first 20,” Duryea said. “I thought we were carrying out the gameplan well and we knew that they had tremendous speed along with tremendous skill ... That burst of goals gave them the confidence to possess their way through the rest of the game.”
The Cougars tested Panthers keeper Jackson O’Neill more in the second half, battling through a Sewickley Academy set that was content with not breaking in the presence of the North Star attack.
A direct kick from the Cougars late in the match presented the biggest challenge to O’Neill, who dove to punch the ball away. That save created an impromptu congratulatory huddle from his teammates as North Star set up a corner-kick try.
“(North Star) brought it to us in the second half,” Boone said. “Obviously we wanted the shutout. We wanted to send a message to the east part of the state that it’s going to be very tough to score on us.”
Tom Pregel set the final in the 78th minute, posting a shot from inside the penalty area.