Deer Lakes boys soccer cruises in playoff opener against Steel Valley

Saturday, October 19, 2019 | 9:28 PM

After losing in the WPIAL semifinals and the PIAA finals last season, the Deer Lakes boys soccer team adopted the motto “unfinished business” for this year.

The Lancers were all business Saturday at Hampton’s Fridley Field, defeating Steel Valley, 7-0, in the first round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.

First-year Deer Lakes coach Dan Yates was pleased with his team’s effort.

“It was good game. They (Steel Valley) dropped off and gave us time on the ball, which is perfect for us,” Yates said. “These boys are so focused. I’ve never been with a group that is as focused as this team.

The No. 2-seeded Lancers (14-4), who have won 12 of their past 14 games, scored four first-half goals and did not allow a shot on goal for the first 40 minutes.

Junior Michael Sullivan put Deer Lakes on top 1-0 13 minutes into the contest. Sullivan then set up Devin Murray with a nice crossing pass in the 27th minute to make it 2-0.

Steel Valley’s Mark Perhacs knew his No. 15 seeded Ironmen (8-8) were in for a tough test against the Lancers.

“They are who we thought they were. They’re one of the best teams in the state for a reason,” he said. “I thought we played pretty well the first 15 or 20 minutes of the game, but eventually their class was just too much.”

Two minutes later, Ryan Rodgers, another junior, found a loose ball and beat Steel Valley goalkeeper Camden Rager to build a 3-0 lead. Nearing the final minute of the half, Scott Rothrauff made a touch pass to AJ Dorman and the senior striker buried it to make the score 4-0 at the half.

Despite allowing seven goals, Perhacs was happy with his junior keeper.

“Cam has been a pleasant surprise. He wasn’t going to come back this year. He didn’t get to play his freshman and sophomore years,” Perhacs said. “I didn’t think he was ready those years. He put in a lot of work off the field, and it showed. He had a great season. It could have been a lot worse today if not for him.”

Early in the second half, Ronan Renter came down the left side a sent a shot inside the far post in the 44th minute to give the Lancers a 5-0 lead. Four minutes later, Colton Spence headed a throw in from Sullivan into the back of the net to make it 6-0. Then, junior midfielder Murray finished off the scoring for Deer Lakes with his second goal off an assist from Spence.

Deer Lakes dominated the ball possession. Yates stresses to his team to possess the ball with intent.

“We are not possessing just to look good,” he said. “We have to possess the ball to move the other team. That creates opportunities like you saw today.”

Sullivan paced Deer Lakes with a goal and two assists. According to Yates, the midfielder continues to impress.

“He’s special. That kid is probably one of the most gifted and talented soccer players that I have ever coached,” Yates said. “Some of the things he does with a soccer ball, I can’t explain. He’s a brilliant player.”

Steel Valley had managed just three wins in the previous five years before this season. The Ironmen hadn’t made an appearance in the postseason since 2011.

“(The turnaround) is the thing I’ve been most proud of,” Perhacs said. “These kids showed up every day and got better every day. We’re going to be competitive again next year, I can’t wait.”

Freshman goalkeeper Nick Braun only had to make one save in earning the victory. The shutout was the ninth of the season for the Deer Lakes.

The Lancers move onto the quarterfinals to face No. 7 North Catholic, who defeated Elizabeth Forward in the first round.

“Our backline is strong,” Yates said. “We rested a couple of players today (junior defender Tony Wanamaker and senior captain Ryan Butler) and we put them in for the last fifteen minutes to get their legs going. We’ll go in stronger on Wednesday because these guys will be back to full fitness.”

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