South Park returns to top of WPIAL heap with 1-0 win over Quaker Valley in 2A title game

Thursday, November 2, 2023 | 8:53 PM

After struggling in recent playoffs, the South Park boys soccer team is WPIAL champion again for the first time since 2014.

“It’s never easy to get out of the semifinals,” said Eagles coach Jon Cantwell. “We had been the No. 1 seed the last few years, we just fell short of expectations. It’s never easy in the final.”

Fighting through an ankle injury, South Park senior all-WPIAL forward Jack Ozimek scored the game-winning goal to lift the Eagles to a 1-0 victory over Quaker Valley in the Class 2A championship game Thursday night at Highmark Stadium.

“My ankle kind of hurt, but I wanted to be there for my team,” said Ozimek. “I kind of lost the ball in the light. The ball kept coming. I jumped, just closed my eyes and prayed it went in.”

Ozimek headed in a free kick from fellow senior and all-WPIAL forward Kaiden Fischer at the 71st minute.

“On those free kicks, I’m usually on the ball and I just try to pop it up,” said Fischer. “Jack somehow found a way to get to the ball. I’m happy he put that one in.”

“We were fortunate enough to see them a little bit in their game against Shady Side,” said Cantwell. “I thought they struggled a bit with balls served into the box. We’re usually creative, but tonight we wanted to be more direct.”

Direct was the way to play because offense was hard to come by in the first half as both teams wanted to possess the ball and not yield a costly goal.

Each team came into the championship game with robust goal totals on the year with the Eagles scoring 84 goals and the Quakers 109.

No. 2 seed Quaker Valley (17-4) had more chances in the first half, owing to the Quakers playing their normal possession game and holding the ball for 63% of the half.

“We talk to our guys all the time about adjustments,” said Cantwell. “We’re going to have to play different ways, different formations, we have to defend a little bit. We weren’t going to have the ball like we typically do, and that’s a credit to Quaker.”

At the 24th minute, top-seeded South Park (21-0) had the best opportunity for either team in the first half. The Eagles found a soft spot in the Quakers defense and were looking for an early lead.

Sophomore Caden Loveland darted down the middle of the field with brother, senior Cameron, right alongside.

After taking on two defenders, Caden found Cameron wide open on his right. Cameron’s shot missed the net and kept the match scoreless.

South Park flipped the time of possession by holding the ball for 55% of the second half. Even though it wasn’t a huge margin, it was enough for the Eagles to find the all-important first goal.

Quaker Valley senior Bennett Haas gave the Quakers their best chance in the early part of the second half, receiving a feed from junior Jack Karwoski, but Haas’s shot was smothered by sophomore goalkeeper Cooper Hochendoner.

Hochendoner saw 25 Quaker shots and stopped all 13 that were on frame for the shutout.

“Cooper was amazing,” said Fischer. “He’s athletic and a little bit taller, but he made some great saves, like five or six in a row, to save the game for us. He’s only a sophomore, so look out for him in the next few years.”

Karwoski and senior Cameron Diggins gave the Quakers back-to-back chances within the 63rd minute as both got open looks at the net, but each was turned away by Hochendoner.

The Quakers looked like they would score immediately after the South Park goal as Haas had two golden chances but was shut down both times by Hochendoner.

“We’re two really storied programs,” said Cantwell. “They have 10 titles, so I’m not going to act like were in the same class, but it was really good to have us battle here tonight, and there’s a chance we see each other in the PIAA playoffs.”

In the PIAA playoffs, South Park will play the District 10 runner-up and Quaker Valley will face the District 10 champion.

Both games will be on Tuesday at a time and site to be announced.

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