Gateway boys soccer deals with schedule crunch in quest for playoff berth

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Sunday, October 18, 2020 | 11:01 AM


The Gateway boys soccer team found itself in a playoff battle in Section 4-4A as it hoped to qualify for the WPIAL postseason for the first time since 2016.

The Gators played a compacted, hectic schedule down the stretch — 10 scheduled games in 16 days — after covid-19 issues in the Gateway School District shut down athletic activities late last month.

The final stretch in the regular season was to conclude Tuesday with a section battle against a West Mifflin team also in the hunt for the fourth and final playoff spot from the section behind leaders Franklin Regional, Kiski Area and Plum.

“We weren’t too excited to have to play all those games in a short amount of time, but at the same time, the guys were happy to be in position to make the playoffs,” Gateway coach Bernie Stiles said last week before his team began a three-games-in-three-days clip against Plum, Obama Academy and Woodland Hills.

“That is great motivation, and it gave them that extra push to hopefully play well.”

Plum, which came down to the wire with Franklin Regional and Kiski Area for the section title, defeated Gateway, 4-0, in a section matchup Oct. 14.

The Gators’ contests against Obama Academy the next day and Woodland Hills last Friday, as well as Tuesday’s battle with West Mifflin, were to conclude past the deadline for this week’s edition.

Gateway opened its season with a 3-0 win over Penn Hills and then faced the gauntlet of Franklin Regional, Kiski Area and Plum, which had a combined 34-5 section record after games Oct. 14.

Despite a 7-1 loss to Franklin Regional and close 3-2 setbacks to Plum and Kiski, Stiles said he was encouraged with what his senior-laden team was able to do.

Then the unplanned break occurred.

“We certainly had some momentum going into the break,” Stiles said. “We were used to being in one of the toughest section in the WPIAL when we had (Thomas Jefferson, Chartiers Valley) and South Fayette. When they realigned, it was still very tough for us with Franklin Regional already there and Kiski and Plum coming in. We have been used to playing some of the top teams in the WPIAL in section play.”

Gateway played Plum on Sept. 24 before being away from practice or games from Sept. 25 to Sept. 30.

The Gators returned for games Oct. 1 and 2, but an issue with available referees, Stiles said, postponed those matchups.

Gateway was able to get in a couple extra days of training before returning to game action against Penn Hills on Oct. 3. A 3-2 win against the Indians started a stretch where it won four of five to put itself in position for a playoff run.

“The guys were super excited to be back training and then playing,” Stiles said. “There was that fear that we might not be coming back, and they thought the season might be lost. When we got the go-ahead to return, there was a great adrenaline rush. Their focus came back. It was a lot like preparing for the first game of the season.

“We got some guys healthy again, and the team got some rest, which was good, too.”

Gateway topped West Mifflin, 2-1, in overtime Oct. 5 to give it an advantage over the Titans in the playoff battle.

After a loss to Franklin Regional on Oct. 6, the Gators came back the next night and beat Obama, 5-0, on senior night. Ten seniors — captains Sam Alexander, AJ Brown and Matt Murphy, along with Alex Gutierrez, Nathan Codeluppi, Jon Rathfon, Perry Covington, Chris Snyder, Bilal Mukhtar and Payton Brown — were honored in a ceremony before the game.

“I think this is one of the greatest classes that Gateway boys soccer has ever had, regardless of record or whatever else,” Stiles said. “I’ve got four guys (who) will end up starting more than 60 varsity games, and I have six guys who have started more than 50 varsity games. Those are incredible numbers. It’s going to be significant when these guys are not here. Next year, it’s going to be a completely different team. They have given so much to this program.”

Gateway topped Woodland Hills, 4-1, on Oct. 8.

“We had a bunch of dead legs against Woodland Hills,” Stiles said. “A lot of them were running like they were pulling anvils. I didn’t start three starters and rested a few others who would’ve played significant time. We played 28 guys out of 31 on the roster.”

Snyder, last year’s leading scorer and team MVP, led the team in scoring with 12 goals through a matchup with Kiski Area on Oct. 12.

“The midfield has been pretty good at playing me through, and the outside wingers have given me some nice crosses. I’ve had a few off those,” Snyder said. “I’ve been able to score some goals for my team, but it has been a total team effort.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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