Unionville drops tough 1-0 match in districts

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Heartbreaking loss caps strong season for Indians

By Dave Conard, Correspondent, UnionvilleTimes.com

Unionville's Evan Dwyer battles Strath Haven's Ben Soffer for the ball late in the second half.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — If effort always translated into goals on the scoreboard, Unionville would be getting ready tomorrow to take on the winner of the Bayard-Rustin vs. Central Bucks South match up.

Unfortunately for the Indians, their season fell one win short of a state tournament bid with a 1-0 loss to perennial Central Conference soccer powerhouse Strath Haven in the PIAA class AAA district One soccer playoffs Thursday night.

“I can’t fault the team for their effort,” said Indians head coach Rich Garber. “We just did not get that one break or that one finish that we needed. It’s the playoffs and just that quickly it can be over, I told our guys not to let tonight detract from a great season, that’s soccer.”

Unionville (12-4-1) which entered the tournament as the fourth seed overall, saw it’s first action in almost a week as a first round bye set up the match up with the 13th seeded Panthers, who have reached the quarter finals in each of the past five seasons.

Straith Haven's Nate Johnson fights off the Indians' James Crowly and Ryan Sommerville

“Some of our guys came in with a chip on their shoulder,” said Strath Haven head coach Ryan O’Neil. “It was a lower seed than we were expecting and the seniors really wanted to come out and show they belonged here against a very good team, with some major talent on it.”

As the first half wound down, the Indians controlled play recording five of their game total of nine shots in a four minute span, but could not find the twine, with the best opportunity to score sailing wide as Matt Olsen’s shot missed the mark.

“We were hoping when the wind kicked up at the end of the half to just escape that flurry without giving up a goal,” added O’Neil. “We knew we would have the wind the second half and just tried to feed the middle with Thomas (Shiiba), which is something we have done a lot this season, get the ball to 18.”

After a scoreless fist half, it took the Panthers and senior Thomas Shiiba under five minutes to get on the board as the Strath Haven senior took a feed from junior Preston Dennis and streaked toward the Unionville net with a brisk tail wind blowing.

Unionville defenders line up for a direct kick by Strath Haven's Alex Murphy.

Shiiba controlled the ball and picked the right corner on a laser shot from 15 yards out near the hash marks for the only tally of the contest.

“I just didn’t want to over think it,” said Shiiba, who will be attending the U.S Naval Academy on a soccer scholarship. “I usually try to let the goaltender make the first move, but I knew he (Perry Hopkins) wouldn’t commit. I saw the corner, which was the only spot I knew I could get it by him and was lucky enough to get a great shot on it.”

Every time an Indians forward tried to carry the ball into the zone after the intermission, they were greeted with seven black shirts, dropping back in trap style defense that would make the New Jersey Devils proud, forcing Unionville to be content with launching long-range salvos at the Panthers goal tender.

“We really needed to possess the ball more,” said Garber. “I felt we needed attack more in the zone, instead we let them dictate play and to their credit they did a very good job clearing the ball every time we got it deep.”

“We were totally confident coming in here,” added Shiiba. “They are a great team and had an outstanding season, but we knew we could at least hang with them. Getting through that first half really got us fired up going into the second half, now we have to focus on the next game, if we can get another win we are in states.”

“Our goal is of course to try to win districts,” added O’Neil. “The next game for us is huge because that gets us into the state tournament, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves, Lower Merion lost today, which tells you that it can happen to any one.”

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