MOON TWP — Ben Francis' goal in the fifth minute of play was both a beginning and an end for Seneca Valley's boys soccer team.
Despite a number of additional scoring chances, the Raiders never did find the net again in a 2-1 loss to Mt. Lebanon in a WPIAL Class 4A semifinal in the rain at Moon's Tiger Stadium Saturday afternoon.
“We kept pressing and pushing, but came up short,” said SV coach George Williams. “We played great for 78 minutes and just had a slight let-up the other two minutes.”
The goal by Francis followed three corner kicks earned by the Blue Devils in the first 4½ minutes of the game. The senior midfielder had four Mt. Lebanon defenders chasing him when he booted a shot on a breakaway past Mt. Lebanon goalkeeper Steven Vines and into the right side of the net.
“We talked about the weather before the game and I think our guys were caught up in that a little bit,” said Mt. Lebanon coach Bill Perz. “We were a bit unlucky, but (Francis) is an all-star player and got a chance there.
“We were confident our guys would be able to react to that goal.”
In particular, it was senior midfielder Giuseppe Croce who answered for the Blue Devils.
He took a pass from Zac D'Alesandro in the 18th minute and unleashed a shot from 15 yards before SV goalkeeper Adam Davies arrived to challenge.
The game remained a 1-1 stalemate until five minutes into the second half. Shortly after a Mt. Lebanon throw-in, Croce tucked a second goal into the right side of the net.
Croce now leads Mt. Lebanon with 20 goals on the season.
“He's been on fire,” said Perz. “He also scored two goals against Butler (which the Blue Devils defeated 3-1 in Wednesday's quarterfinal).
Francis came close on several occasions to scoring his second goal of the game.
He had one shot smack off the left post and another one sailed just wide of the net.
SV's Jonathan Pruce had a scoring chance in the 53rd minute, but his shot from just yards away on the right side of the net was deflected by a sliding Vines.
In several other instances, the Raiders had prime scoring chances thwarted by questionable offside calls.
Davies did his part to keep SV's deficit at just one goal, making a save on a header by Danny Simboro in the 67th minute.
“Against a very strong attack, I'm proud of the defense we played today,” said Williams.
Mt. Lebanon will take on Canon-McMillan in the WPIAL title game. It will be the Blue Devils' first appearance in the final in 10 years.
Prior to Saturday's meeting, the Blue Devils (15-4-1) had last met the Raiders in a district quarterfinal last year, with SV dominating in a 7-0 win.
“A lot of the guys on this year's team played in that game,” said Perz. “That stayed in their minds over the last year and they wanted to take advantage of this opportunity.”
For Seneca Valley (14-4-1), there will be no back-to-back WPIAL titles, but Williams was impressed by his team's effort this season, which included a section championship.
“It's very difficult to repeat (as champion),” he said, “but we returned just three starters from last year. When you look at the lack of experience that we had, and to do what we did, it was a great season.”