Franklin Regional defense will get test from West Allegheny in WPIAL title rematch
Friday, November 1, 2019 | 5:11 PM
Anthony DiFalco plays soccer with a low-key demeanor, but his advanced skills are unintentionally flashy at times.
DiFalco appreciates talent because he exudes it, so even he is impressed with what his team has done so far this season. The Franklin Regional sophomore forward marvels at the 16 shutouts and the three goals allowed, as well as the tight-fisted defense that has made those numbers possible.
“Our back line is really strong,” DiFalco said. “I think what we’ve done has been from them the most.”
Franklin Regional (18-0-1) is set for a return to the WPIAL Class AAA championship after posting its 10th straight shutout in the semifinals, blanking Blackhawk, 3-0. If the streak of stellar play leads the top-seeded Panthers to a second straight title, it will have to continue against the same team they saw last year at Highmark Stadium — No. 2 West Allegheny (14-5-1).
The teams meet at 2 p.m. Saturday.
It’s a rematch both expected — a product of confidence, familiarity and, like DiFalco, knowing talent when they see it.
“The last time we saw them was at that same venue,” Franklin Regional coach Rand Hudson said. “It was kind to us last time at that location and hopefully it is again. It’s no shock to us. Everyone is like, ‘West A has (five) losses.’ First, look at whom they lost to, and second, they played a really tough schedule. They are defending state champions. They’re going to have the heart of a champion through the playoffs. They’re not going to let anybody get in their way. Hopefully we’ll be able to have a good game against them.”
DiFalco scored a highlight-reel goal in last year’s final, a 1-0 victory that gave the Panthers their first WPIAL title.
He thinks this year’s team is right there with the 2018 squad that posted 16 clean sheets and gave up seven goals in 22 games (20-1-1).
West Allegheny also brushed past the Panthers in the PIAA semifinals, 2-1, on the way to a state championship.
“Over time, we’ve developed really strong chemistry,” said DiFalco, who has a team-best 29 goals. “We have been there so we know what to expect. I think we’re even closer than we were last year. We’re all really excited.”
West Allegheny only returns three starters who appeared in last year’s WPIAL final. Like Franklin Regional, the Indians are young, with three seniors, seven sophomore and a freshman starting.
The Indians, though, expected to make another playoff run.
“We knew there was going to be a learning curve that the younger players would have to get through,” Indians coach Kevin Amos said. “Playing in a tough section and playing a tough non-conference schedule really got them prepared for the postseason. My coaching staff and I set a really high bar every year. We expect for our team to be playing for a championship and that is how we prepare them mentally and physically each year.”
Panthers senior forward Nolan Scholze said his team will not deviate from its approach, no matter how deep this postseason lasts.
“We have an interesting scheme where we’re a very offensive team but at the same time, everyone gets back on defense all the time and that’s what it’s based around,” said Scholze, who has a goal in each playoff game. “Working hard is what we do. … It’s been working so far, so we’re just going to ride that the rest of the way.
“Everyone can’t wait. I am hyped. We always look to the next game, not any farther, and we play the same against everyone. We don’t care who it is, work just as hard.”
Franklin Regional, which had outscored three playoff opponents 20-0 (it beat Laurel Highlands 16-0 in the first round) might be the best team in the state, regardless of class, so expectations call for a WPIAL and PIAA title. No pressure here.
“We’re not even talking about the states yet,” Hudson said. “It’s about the next game.”
West Allegheny won a tight first-rounder against Thomas Jefferson, 3-2, and followed it up with a 5-1 win over Mars before posting a 1-0 win over Hampton in the semis.
Caleb Miller put back a rebound of his penalty kick in the latest win that sent the Indians to their third straight finals appearance. West Allegheny outshot the Talbots, 13-5, and did not allow a corner kick.
Senior Fletcher Amos leads the Indians with 19 goals and 10 assists.
Coach Amos believes his team can score against the vaunted Panthers.
“It comes down to finishing our opportunities when we generate them,” he said. “Any team can be scored upon. … In the finals last year, we had more opportunities than they did but. They finished and we did not. In the state semifinal game last year, we finished and they did not. We’ll get our chances.”
Connor Hudson, DiFalco and Fletcher Amos all made the Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association All-State team.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .
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