Baldwin boys soccer celebrates end of long playoff drought

Friday, October 25, 2019 | 5:18 PM

The postseason drought is over for the Baldwin boys soccer program.

It had been eight years since the Highlanders qualified for the WPIAL playoffs.

They clinched a postseason berth Oct. 10 with a clutch 3-1 section win at home against rival Bethel Park.

“It was an up-and down-season with a frustrating beginning because we had issues closing games out,” coach Dave Zinski said. “But when they needed to, the team stepped up and played the way necessary to win games and clinch the first playoff berth for Baldwin since 2011.”

Zinski said the Highlanders were led by the players positioned in the middle of the field.

“Our biggest strengths are our center backs, center midfielders and striker,” Zinski said. “If those players are in the game and playing well, it can be difficult for any team to face them.”

Baldwin ended up with a 5-7 record in Section 2-AAAA, finishing fourth behind Mt. Lebanon (11-1), Canon-McMillan (9-2-1) and Upper St. Clair (8-2-2).

The Highlanders’ starting lineup this season included only three seniors, along with seven juniors and one sophomore.

Ray Thomas, Pasi Oswald and Michael Rector were the seniors. The junior class was represented in the starting lineup by Michael Sabo, Joey Moeller, Kurt Schemm, Tai Guzzi, Joey Kosslow, Zack Stewart and Ricky Bandola.

Moeller and Cole Thomas, a sophomore forward, led the team in scoring during the regular season. Ray Thomas, Moeller and Schemm served as team captains. Junior Bibas Rai and sophomore Niraj Thapa were top reserves.

“The Baldwin soccer team has accomplished something that hasn’t been done in years,” Moeller said. “To be a part of such a great team makes the situation so much better. Many of my teammates have stepped it up greatly and it’s all paying off as we continue to improve.”

Baldwin won its final two section games against Peters Township and Bethel Park, then finished the regular season with a 2-1 win against Ringgold.

Cole Thomas sparked the Highlanders in the playoff-clincher against Bethel Park with a pair of second-half goals. Moeller also netted a goal.

Despite a 7-10-1 record, Baldwin landed the No. 11 seed for the Class AAAA playoffs. The Highlanders lost 3-0 to No. 6 Norwin Oct. 21 in the first round.

Among the integral players in the Baldwin lineup this season were Oswald, a midfielder, Ray Thomas, on defense, Moeller, at forward, Schemm, on defense, and Sabo, at the goalkeeper position.

“Our final week really tested us and proved we are stronger than most predicted,” said Schemm, who has played soccer for about 13 years. “Our expectations were mainly to improve on last year and make a run for a playoff spot. We have had a season full of highs and lows but have always adjusted and continually improved.”

Schemm said the Highlanders were highly motivated during the home stretch of the schdule.

“Our strengths include a strong and fast defense,” he said, “and, especially in the past three games, our offense really came alive with help from a strong and hard-working midfield.”

Schemm, who also competes for the PFC cup team and played for the PA-West ODP team for three years, has a 3.8 GPA and is a board member of Global Minds, a student-run club that encourages interaction and discussion between English as a Second Language and non-ESL students.

Due to the late-summer stadium renovation project, the Highlanders played all of their games in September on the road. The schedule was set up accordingly in case of delays in the project.

“Playing all our games away in September was really difficult,” Zinski said. “Not only were all the games away, but we had to have our camp and all practices on a grass field. That put us at a huge disadvantage when we had to play the games on turf.

“At the beginning of the season, the players rallied around having away games. But after awhile, it became frustrating having to constantly be on the bus and not getting home until 11 p.m.”


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