While Chris Lupolt commended his Selinsgrove players for their performance Tuesday night, he climbed aboard the team bus with a few coaching points.
Quite simply, Lupolt wants the Seals to realize that continued survival in the PIAA’s grueling Class 3A boys tournament hinges on quality play at the highest possible level for lengthy stretches every time the whistle blows.
So, even though Lupolt’s surging Seals (19-2) turned back District 2 champion Crestwood 2-0 Tuesday at Loyalsock’s Ken Robbins Stadium, there were missed scoring opportunities. Also, at times their defensive play could have been a bit crisper and sharper — especially early and down the stretch.
“We didn’t defend in the second half as well as I would have hoped, but we did enough to get by,” Lupolt said after the Seals claimed their first state-level victory since the 2002. That season, they pushed past Southern Lehigh 2-1 in overtime in the Class 2A tournament.
“We were actually playing two defensive center midfielders when we were up two," added Lupolt, "and, again, they still kept coming after us.”
Yet despite Crestwood pushing numbers forward in a determined effort to put something on the scoreboard and cause Selinsgrove to grow restless and anxious, the Seals’ defensive backfield of Mason Beaver, Evan Pickering, Dylan Watts and Clint Rowe held up. Additional help came from midfielders Jamison Bohner, Matt Gilfert and Owen Magee, all of whom dropped back to find the ball and lend support.
Lupolt actually had Rowe and Watts swap sides of the field in the first half since Comets left winger Ben Rossi was having a good bit of success running at Rowe. Yet even when Rossi was able to break down a mark and find space, he didn’t unload on goal.
If someone managed to get through, goalkeeper Cole Catherman (eight saves) gobbled up whatever came his way as the Seals won their sixth straight, all by shutout.
“They read the game very well,” Catherman said of his teammates. “They saw (Crestwood’s) offensive players were making runs and they were catching up to them.”
“Mason Beaver was solid, very solid,” Lupolt added. “He’s been really consistent for us.”
Beaver & Co. may have to raise their game to an even higher level in Saturday’s quarterfinals, as the Seals will take on a Strath Haven side (14-6-2) that rallied for a 2-1 victory over Susquehannock in another opening-round showdown.
Game time between Selinsgrove and Strath Haven is set for 2 p.m. at Cedar Crest High School’s narrow Earl Boltz Stadium in suburban Lebanon.
Andrew Lowman and Emmet Young collected first-half finishes for the District 1 champions, who spotted Susquehannock a 1-0 lead some three minutes in. Charlie Shankweiler (five saves) didn’t see many dangerous looks after yielding the early goal, but he got plenty of help from a defensive backfield anchored by J.T. Holstein.
What makes Strath Haven such a dangerous opponent is the Panthers returned a number of players that last season reached the state title game only to lose to West Allegheny. Strath Haven also owns five state titles, but none since 2000.
“Me and all the other seniors realize this is our last run,” Young told the Delaware County Times following Tuesday’s victory. “We don’t want to go out with a loss, we want to win. We want to go back to the state championship and win it this time. All of the underclassmen want it, too. We all have the same drive, same goal.”
So does everyone wearing a Selinsgrove jersey.
“Our big kids stepped up and kind of led us through what we needed to do to get to the next round,” Lupolt said of his junior-heavy district champs (Watts is the lone senior). “We definitely have some things to work on before the next game. We’ll keep working.
“We’re getting better each game and I hope we’re playing our best soccer.”