GCC gets matching hat tricks from Nate Ward, Carlo Denis to pummel Iroquois

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019 | 10:45 PM


Senior Nate Ward and freshman Carlo Denis were harbingers of promising things to come in the first round of the PIAA Class A boys soccer playoffs.

Every time one of them touched the ball, both early and late, something good happened for Greensburg Central Catholic.

And while some early offsides calls piled up and frustrated the Centurions, they settled in, took advantage of hat tricks from Ward and Denis and dispatched of Iroquois, 6-1, on Tuesday night at Hampton’s Fridley Field.

WPIAL champion GCC (16-3-1) advances to play Springdale (17-4) on Saturday at a time and site to be determined. It will be a rematch of the WPIAL semifinal that GCC won, 4-2.

Like Springdale that day, District 10 champion Iroquois (10-9) played much of the game Tuesday a man down after Andrew Kightlinger received a red card around the 33rd minute. Kightlinger tackled Ward from behind on an early scoring chance by the Indiana University recruit.

The Centurions played the long ball ahead from the start and the strategy produced plenty of offense.

“It took us a while to get used to (Iroquois’ defensive trap),” Ward said. “Once we figured it out, we knew we would be all right. I was getting out in front a lot. They were a tough team.”

GCC had more trouble with Iroquois in the state first round last year, winning 3-2 in Erie while losing a couple of starters — Luke Mort and Ricco Ciccarelli — to injuries. Another physical matchup ensued in the rematch, but GCC had enough of an offensive cushion to repel the Braves.

GCC was called for offsides five times in the first 15 minutes as it tried to get a feel for not only its opponent, but also the style it wanted to play.

“I told Carlo, ‘This is how you beat that offside trap,’” GCC coach Tyler Solis said. “This is your best approach: go out and get a hat trick. It was crazy how many offsides we had. Like 11 of them.”

Eventually, Denis did, as did Ward as GCC’s offensive attack rendered Iroquois’ defensive approach powerless.

Early chances that didn’t go in were quickly forgotten when many others did. Ward nearly scored on a breakaway and his shot ricocheted to Denis, who scored but had his goal waved off.

Ward dashed into the open field again a few minutes later but was fouled by Kightlinger. Mason Fabean took the free kick from the 20-yard line but it sailed wide to the right.

The Centurions kept returning to their go-to guy and Ward finally made Iroquois pay, first by registering a shot on goal that was deflected by Braves keeper Collin May. The heads-up Denis was there again, though, to put back the miss in the far corner for a 1-0 lead with 5 minutes, 29 seconds to play before the half.

Ward got another opportunity with 2:36 remaining in the first half, launching a tilting, off-balance shot into the lower left corner past May to make it 2-0.

Iroquois’ Corey Longo scored in the 47th minute, just out of the break, skirting a low shot past Max House to cut it to 2-1.

But GCC quickly responded as it continued to generate chances, again via Ward and Denis. Ward struck from just inside the 10 to make it 3-1 with 35:20 to play, and the speedy Denis, who has a knack for arriving to the ball in a hurry, put back his own miss to make it 4-1.

Denis slid to chip in the second chance.

“We knew we’d be OK and that we were going to get more goals,” Denis said.

Ward and Dennis have combined to score 53 goals this season.

Ward, still feeling pressure from the undermanned Braves, drew a foul and a penalty kick with 23:35 to go. He cashed in rather effortlessly for a 5-1 advantage.

“They played with a lot of physical-ness,” Solis said of the Braves. “They had some skill, but I think once we were able to get the ball from side to side, we were fine.”

Denis was there for another deflection to make it a five-goal game with 8:24 to go.

GCC outshot the Braves, 20-6.

GCC made the PIAA semifinals last year, finishing a win short of the state championship in Hershey. It is two wins away from that goal now.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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