Fifth-seeded Charleroi ousts Burrell boys in WPIAL soccer playoffs

Saturday, October 19, 2019 | 7:35 PM

Charleroi, the fifth seed in the WPIAL Class AA boys soccer playoffs, lost one game this season, and it was its final game, a 4-3 defeat to Bentworth that moved the Cougars’ record to 17-1 entering the postseason.

Coach Jon Doculi said his kids were asking when they could get back to work immediately after the loss. They said the loss returned the focus they would need in the playoffs.

It was apparent, as the Cougars dominated their first-round match with 12th-seeded Burrell, winning 3-1 to advance to the quarterfinals.

Charleroi scored the first three goals of the game and played smothering defense throughout.

“My back line played very well today. They transitioned through the through balls and went from the back to our mids, who found the gaps to our forwards,” Ducoli said. “We were able to capitalize on some things. The guys were focused, and they have a great amount of self-confidence. We didn’t come out flat-footed, which was needed.”

The game wasn’t all Charleroi. In the first minute and a half, Burrell had perhaps its best scoring opportunity of the first half which could have flipped the game, coach Andrew Kariotis said.

“It would’ve been to nice make that play at the beginning,” Kariotis said. “That certainly may have changed the game, but we played pretty well today.”

Said Ducoli: “Anytime you see a fault that early on your team, you kind of have to reassess on what you have going on. Having that confidence in the team that they’re going to see what you saw and fix it is big.”

JD Fleming scored the first goal for Charleroi in the fourth minute, unassisted, before Jace Kepich scored his 24th goal of the season in the 27th minute to push the Cougars’ lead to 2-0. The goal came from well outside the 18-yard box.

This happened while Burrell bottled up Charleroi’s 48-goal scorer, Cullin Woytovich.

“Anytime you get that first goal to put the other team back on its heels and then strike again, especially from where Kepich scored from, it’s huge,” Ducoli said. “We’re not going to tip-toe the ball across the goal line. We’ll take shots from anywhere when it’s open. To make that statement, that’s a big statement to make. It puts the other team at a disadvantage.”

Woytovich would break through with a solid lead pass to set up the Cougars’ third goal, courtesy of Eben McIntyre, in the 49th minute.

“They mark your top guy, and other guys have to step up. Cullin is fast, and the ball sticks to his feet. But when you take him away, we’ve got other guys that can step up,” Ducoli said.

Burrell broke through for a goal by Tajean DeGore off a feed from Ethan Croushore in the 64th minute, but that would be all the Bucs would get.

“We did our homework. To be able to see our defense lock down their two main studs, our back line worked beautifully together,” Ducoli said.

Said Kariotis: “When we got down in the game, we didn’t put our heads down. They battled back, and I’m really happy with that.

“On the goal, (Ethan Croushore) made a good pass, and DeGore put an arc on it. We probably should’ve done that more, instead of trying to get in so close.”

For the Bucs, the season is over after their first playoff appearance since 2014. Only one senior, Tim Smarick, will be lost to graduation. Every starter likely will return.

“The guys were already asking when we will start lifting and indoor, so they’re excited for next year,” Kariotis said. “They should be proud of the season they had.”

As for Charleroi, next up is a date with defending champion Shady Side Academy in Wednesday’s quarterfinals. The fourth-seeded Indians defeated 13th-seeded Waynesburg on Saturday, 4-0.

“We have to continue with our team chemistry and force them to play our game,” Ducoli said. “Not many teams are able to play our style. We’ve forgotten about today already and now we start training for Wednesday.”

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