Clutch plays from Zach Panza lift Hampton past West Allegheny in Class 3A WPIAL finals

Saturday, November 6, 2021 | 8:42 PM

It’s not often that a player scores the game-winning goal and makes a huge save in the same game, but Zach Panza managed to pull off both accomplishments Saturday.

And it was enough to propel Hampton boys soccer to its first WPIAL championship in a decade.

Panza, a center back, scored on a header off a corner kick in the 64th minute and cleared a ball tumbling towards his goal line in the final five minutes to propel the second-seeded Talbots to a 1-0 victory over No. 1 West Allegheny in the Class 3A final at Highmark Stadium.

“All year he has played well, but this was definitely the best game he played,” Hampton coach Matt McAwley said. “He had the goal-line clearance and the big goal. It was just outstanding stuff. You couldn’t ask for anything more out of a player.

“He played center midfield all throughout high school, but we moved him to center back and you can see those center back tendencies he has when he protects the sides for Thomas (Bradfield) in goal and clears the ball.”

Hampton (19-1) finished the WPIAL playoffs without conceding a goal and ended a perfect season for West Allegheny (21-1).

It took a miraculous play from Panza to keep Saturday’s clean sheet.

With Hampton keeper Thomas Bradfield coming off his line to take the angle away, a ball took a funky deflection and seemed destined for goal, but Panza was able to get his foot on hit to keep it out.

“That was inches,” Panza said. “I saw him take the shot and normally my reaction if Thomas (Bradfield) pushes out a little is to back the goal line just in case.”

Bradfield was strong in net all afternoon, making 10 saves.

Panza’s goal was a header off a corner from Dylan Beranek. Panza also had the game-winning goal in the semifinal win over Franklin Regional.

“I just saw an opening and decided to run to the front post and hope that it came up,” Panza said. “Luke Staggers, my teammate, was right beside me, so if I missed it, he was going to get it.”

Hampton has 14 seniors on the roster, and they paid off their goal of winning gold together on their last ride.

“These have been my buddies the last 10 years of my life,” Panza said. “We grew up playing Hampton rec soccer together. It’s nice to do this with them. I am really at a loss for words.”

West Allegheny had several chances to knot the score up in the final 10 minutes. Will Douglas hit the post with a shot in the 53rd minute, and West Allegheny carried the majority of possession in the first half but couldn’t breach Hampton’s backline, which was at most times four players strong.

The match was physical from start to finish.

“We played them straight up, and I thought we had the better of the play,” West Allegheny coach Kevin Amos said. “They like to sit back and counter, and I thought we did a really good job against that. I hate to say anything about referees, but we had PKs down there. I know it’s tough for them to call in these types of games, but it was clearly a PK.

“It is what it is. We’ll see them again. States are coming. There’s a bigger trophy out there now, and we’ll go hunt that one.”

Both teams will continue into the state playoffs on Tuesday.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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