GCC tightens up on defense heading into boys soccer title match with Winchester Thurston

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Friday, November 6, 2020 | 4:28 PM


The Greensburg Central Catholic boys soccer team might be dealing with a case of mistaken identity this postseason.

Where are all of the finesse goals and breakout plays? The wide-open passing and constantly crashing the net?

All right, so maybe WPIAL championship teams get critiqued more than others, but the top-seeded Centurions seem to be taking a different route to the championship this time around, at least in terms of their style.

“We’re a defensive team,” senior defender Seth Skowronek said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

GCC has back-to-back shutouts. It used defense to ward off Springdale in the semifinals, 2-0, and reach the finals for a third straight season — the first time as the No. 1 seed.

It will be the Centurions (14-1) and fellow Section 2 co-champion Winchester Thurston (14-1) in the Class A title game again, starting at 3 p.m. Saturday at Gateway’s Antimarino Stadium.

The teams have played eight one-goal games against each other since 2017. GCC won, 1-0, in last year’s championship before the Bears scored a 2-1 win in the PIAA semifinals.

The Bears blanked the Centurions this year, 3-0, after GCC won, 3-2, earlier in the season.

“When we play any team, we talk about playing them like they’re Winchester,” GCC coach Tyler Solis said. “They played a video on their scoreboard when we played down there, and it showed them beating us in the state semis last year. We weren’t ourselves the second time. We lacked effort in that game.

“It’s always a great matchup. We have to be physical. It will be a fight.”

The defense has awakened of late, which could spell trouble for the Bears.

That’s not to say GCC does not still play an exciting style of soccer. Getting sophomore Carlo Denis wide is something to see when he turns on the jets.

Denis moved to the wing for the first time this season in the semifinals — shades of last season when he complemented gifted scorer Nate Ward, now at Indiana University.

Junior midfielder Mason Fabean and senior forward Ricco Ciccarelli make it interesting when they rip long shots.

But the Centurions are willing to sacrifice vanity for victories. They’ll take physical over finesse.

“As long as we win, it doesn’t matter,” Denis said.

GCC opened the playoffs with an oddball 7-5 win over 16th-seeded Aquinas Academy. Solis rested his starters when it was 7-0 and Aquinas rallied.

“We wanted to get some of our younger guys into the game,” Solis said. “Trust me, nobody wanted to come out.”

There was a lesson hidden in the move, which carried a bright tinge of sportsmanship with it.

Plus, blowouts do little for morale.

“You might beat a team 9-0 in the first round and then get beat in the second round,” Solis said. “You have to gauge your team and know how they’re going to play. You have to know they’ll be ready when they get to the final.”

Ninth-seeded Eden Christian gave GCC all it could handle in the quarterfinals. Ciccarelli scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.

“Eden was one of the toughest teams we’ve faced,” Solis said. “They were really good.”

Maybe it was that win that carved out this newfound defensive identity.

Solis was beaming after the Springdale win, which saw the Dynamos play with 10 players after a red card on starter Roman Liberati in the 25th minute.

“It was great to get the shutout,” the coach said.

Skowronek had both goals, one on a penalty kick after Denis drew a foul in the box six minutes earlier.

GCC shelved pretty through balls and wide passes for tight, lockdown defense to preserve the shutout.

“I have learned over the years that you can’t just have one guy,” Solis said. “It takes a team. We’ve had some great players; so many of them helped us build the program along the way. We have guys who used to want to wind up and take 30 shots a game. But they know we have to play as a unit to win a championship.”

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

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