WEXFORD — It took some time, but North Catholic found its stride.
After playing on the back foot for most of the first half of Saturday night's PIAA Class 2A boys soccer quarterfinal against Ambridge, the Trojans (14-8-0) flipped the script and earned a 2-0 victory at North Allegheny's Newman Stadium.
Coming in, North coach Ricardo Headley said, the Trojans expected the Bridgers (14-7-0) to press high.
“We already knew that playing out of the back would be risky,” Headley said. “We like to connect passes and stuff like that.”
North still tried long passes, leading to turnovers and Ambridge controlling possession early on. The Bridgers had led in shots and corners even after the Trojans' Ryan Shantz broke through in the 32nd minute for a score.
“We're very well-acquainted,” Ambridge coach Ben Fiore said. “They kind of knew what to prepare for and we knew we had to throw everything at them. Unfortunately, we couldn't cash in.”
In the lead-up to the match, Headley said, Shantz was doubtful to play. After netting the goal, he made his way to the bench.
“It was more of a wake-up call than a crusher, I'd say,” Fiore said of the icebreaker. “We just never got back on our horse after that.”
The Trojans' Devin Paschall made four important saves in the first half.
“We're solid defensively,” Headley said. “We know how to handle teams that have possession of the ball and that are pressuring us a lot.”
In the 55th minute, senior defender Will Kunzmann did something unusual. On a free kick from 60 yards out, he got one past the Bridgers' goalie.
“I wasn't really expecting it,” Will said. “It kind of just came together. I got a little lucky there.”
“Our keeper was out of position and it caught us off guard,” Fiore said. “It was great awareness by North Catholic, I just think it should've never been set up. But they took advantage of it.”
Paschall made another three saves in the remainder of the contest. In the 60th minute, Ambridge's Carter Dunlap had a free kick from the edge of North's box, but most of the Trojans on the field lined up to barricade the try.
With two minutes to go, Fiore and a handful of his players were carded off as frustrations boiled over.
The Trojans move on to the state semifinals against Quaker Valley (21-2-0). The Trojans lost to the Quakers, 5-0, in the WPIAL final earlier this month. The rematch will take place on Tuesday night at North Hills.