Second half goal propels Wellsboro to District final
HEPBURNVILLE - Coming into Tuesday Wellsboro and Sayre boys' soccer were making history at their schools.
Only one would be continuing that journey Wednesday.
In a back and forth game marked by strong defensive play it was a direct kick by Hornet Gillian Alafoginis that found it's way to his teammate Dan Brooks.
Deep in the Redskin box Brooks got a foot on the ball and pushed it through the net for the game's lone, giving Wellsboro a 1-0 win in District IV, Class semi-final action and keeping their storybook season alive.
"Honestly, it was amazing," Brooks remarked. "It was a bit of luck for real, but, other than that it was awesome. It's a great chance."
The win not only puts them in a district final but also earns them a state berth, both firsts at Wellsboro.
"It feels pretty nice," Alafoginis remarked about going to states.
"I can't quantify it," Wellsboro coach John Shaffer explained. "It's huge, it's amazing. To be the first team to win a district, then to make it to a district semi-final, and then to make it to a district final. This group of boys they just keep setting new high marks. It's amazing."
Beating Sayre was extra sweet for Wellsboro since they lost out the league title to them.
"I would rather be going to states and playing more soccer than NTL champs," Alafoginis said.
The Hornets knew it was going to be another tight contest. They had won their first meeting 2-1 but Sayre had taken the second, and the NTL title, 1-0.
Wellsboro thought they would try something different this time.
"You know, we bunkered in both games and it didn't help us, it didn't hurt us but we wanted to attack," explained Brooks.
Sayre had used quick passing and give and goes to lead the league in scoring this season so the Hornets knew they had to shut that down.
"Follow the runners, it's as simple as that," Brooks explained. "If you follow the one guy they can't pass it."
"We knew what they had coming in, too," Shaffer said. "A bunch of a quality players, I want to give them a ton of respect. They're an amazing team, we knew they would take a quick run at us. We knew we had to stay compact and not allow them to run by us."
Wellsboro goalie Jake Mitchell was excited to keep the clean sheet on one of the top offenses in the area.
"It feels really good," he said. "It's always a great feeling. And this is a tough team, they played well and put on pressure. It feels good to get this one."
They knew they had to keep NTL MVP Seth Murrelle contained but felt they had a good game plan to do that with.
"We've seen him before and so we know we have to keep him to his left," Mitchell explained. "But he can still play well. He's quick and has good cut backs."
"Murrelle is a great player," added Alafoginis. "He's probably one of the most talented that we've seen so far. Other than that we shut them down pretty good, we shut their offense down pretty good."
It was Sayre that put the pressure on early with their quick passing. Directed by Murrelle, the Redskins were able to get two quick shots off but Wellsboro soon recovered.
Their defense and mid-field began earning possessions of their own as they methodically tried to get it inside the Sayre box.
Neither team was able to get a lot of shots off in the first half. Murrelle tried a few long ball attempts but they were either wide or stopped by Wellsboro keeper Mitchell.
The Hornets had an equally tough time penetrating the Redskin back four. They were able to get their mid-field to about 30 yards out of Sayre's goal several times but couldn't find the right seam for a through ball.
The best chance for a first half goal was late when a Murrelle cross nearly found an open Jacob Wheeler in front of the Wellsboro net but the two couldn't connect.
The back and forth continued in the second half until just under 29 minutes to play. That's when Wellsboro was awarded a direct kick in the middle of the field.
Alafoginis took the kick and punched it high and forward towards the center of the Sayre box.
"Coach and I have this thing," he said about his direct kicks. "He tells me to make it nasty, he tells me to put in the box. So I was just thinking get it in the box as far as I can."
It took a big bounce and slipped through the Redskin defense right to the waiting Brooks.
"It was just a chance and you have to complete on it," said Brooks.
"In the back of my mind I was like 'no way, this can't be it'," Alafoginis said. "But I was like 'Oh my God, yes'."
After seeing the goal Mitchell knew they could pull it out.
"Just keep it clean," he remarked. "Just keep it a clean shutout."
The energy of both teams immediately went up after that goal. At 26:20 Murrelle had a shot go wide while at 25:10 Wellsboro had a deep run get snuffed down in the Sayre box.
The Hornets defense stepped it up late as the Redskins couldn't get their give and go attack on line. They had a few chances late but were simply one pass off of their connections.
Despite the loss the Redskins were pleased with their season.
"I'm proud of the kids," Sayre coach Glenn Murrelle said. "We started with 16, we ended with 15. To accomplish what they did with 15 kids is amazing. We had some injuries early on, some kids stepped up. You can't take anything away from the kids, they did a phenomenal job. These kids did a fabulous job all year, we had some really close games and they stepped up. Our defense was very tough all year."
The Hornets out shot them 8-6 while Mitchell had six stops in goal for Wellsboro. Giuseppe Scavonne had five stops for Sayre.
The Redskins led in corner kicks 5-1.
Wellsboro will now play for a district title on Thursday, 7 p.m. against top seed Bloomsburg back at Balls Mills.
"We know they're going to be quality," Shaffer said about the 21-0 Panthers. "They're a quality team, quality players, quality coached. We know it's going to be the biggest challenge our program has ever faced. It comes down to just trying to play our soccer. If we bunker in against a team that good they're going to break us down. We just have to play our soccer and let the results be what it is."
One thing's for sure, his players are ready to keep making history.
"I'm just going to focus on the same thing," Mitchell said. "Just playing my game."
"Work hard, have fun," added Brooks.