Hampton dispatches Franklin Regional boys soccer team in semis

Monday, November 1, 2021 | 10:07 PM

Franklin Regional has enjoyed deep playoff runs in recent seasons, winning two WPIAL titles in three years.

But during the Panthers’ recent run of success, they had only faced Hampton one other time in the boys soccer postseason.

The Talbots decided it was time to steal some of the Panthers’ thunder in the Class 3A bracket when the teams met again Monday night in Monroeville.

It took all they had to do it.

Senior Zach Panza delivered a penalty kick into the back of the net with 3:38 remaining to lift the second-seeded Talbots to a 1-0 win over No. 3 Franklin Regional in a tightly contested semifinal playoff game at Gateway’s Antimarino Stadium.

With overtime looking like a strong possibility, Hampton (18-1) drew a foul in the box — one of few mistakes by Franklin Regional (15-4), but a critical one at that juncture — and the senior-guided Talbots denied the Panthers a fourth straight trip to the finals.

On the penalty kick, Panza shot it right. Panthers’ sophomore goalkeeper Aryan Selokar went left. That was all Hampon needed.

And Selokar had been Dikembe Mutumbo up to that point.

The best PK guy on the field, though, was licking his chops.

“Everyone on the pitch was getting really tired from nonstop working,” Panza said. “We had a lot chances. Finally we got a penalty and that’s my go-to. They call me the pen merchant. Or ‘Penza’. I stepped up. I hoping for one there.”

Panza is a perfect 6 for 6 on PKs this season.

“He is somebody who is very calm and collected on the spot,” Hampton coach Matt McAwley said. “Even taking a couple knocks early in the game, he was able to fight through that and have the competitiveness to finish the penalty, which was awesome.

“We knew Franklin was going to be an incredible tough opponent. It didn’t surprise me it at all that it came down to the wire, 0-0. In the end, it was fortunate for us to have that opportunity to put it away.”

The Talbots will play No. 1 West Allegheny (21-0) in the title match at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Highmark Stadium. They also secured a PIAA playoff berth.

Franklin Regional will face Plum (17-3-1) in a third-place game Wednesday at a time and site to be announced for a spot in the PIAA tournament.

“You hate to see a (PK) decide the game,” Franklin Regional coach Thomas Louisy said. “You’d rather see the players battle it out and settle it for themselves. Hampton is a really good team. They defend well. They’re physical and strong. I think we defended well. It was a game that was going to go to overtime. The whole game plan for us was to defend and wait for that one opportunity.”

Hampton has only allowed eight goals all season and has posted 13 shutouts. The Talbots’ last semifinal trip came in 2019, and they haven’t played in the final since 2011.

The teams met in the 2018 quarterfinals at Norwin, with Franklin Regional winning, 2-1.

The Panthers only had four shots this time, to the Talbots’ eight.

Chances were limited in a scoreless first half, a product of sound defense and strong goalkeeping, particularly that of Panthers’ sophomore Aryan Selokar.

The Talbots’ Gabe Viszlay sent a 30-yard free kick high early.

Panthers star senior Anthony DiFalco, who is friend of Panza, was limited by the Talbots’ as-good-as-advertised defensive unit.

DiFalco bent a free kick on frame, but senior keeper Thomas Bradfield made the save with 1:50 left in the opening 40 minutes.

“He was somebody we were concerned about. … Rightfully so,” McAwley said of DiFalco. “My guys had their own responsibilities they had to deal with, whether it was passing him off or staying with him. They all played the roles they had to very well.”

In the second half, Selokar denied several Hampton attempts, including a rip by Panza in the 53rd minute, then another from senior Liam Nichols. Panthers’ sophomore keeper Aryan Selokar made a couple diving, fingertip stops.

He had five saves in the loss.

Bradfield had four stops.

“Their keeper played a fantastic game,” Panza said. “He didn’t bobble a single thing.”

Louisy also was impressed with his keeper’s play.

“Tonight, he played his best game,” Louisy said. “He came out and was communicating. I am very proud of the performance he put in tonight. Proud of the performance of the entire team. The guys worked hard. We still have another game to look forward to.”

Panthers’ junior Colton Hudson reared back for a 30-yard blast with about 16 minutes remaining, but Bradfield stuffed him.

Hampton adjusted to an absence in the lineup on the defensive side.

Senior defender Henry Hughes injured his ankle against Moon in the quarterfinals. That meant sophomore Luke Fiscus went to left back and senior Dylan Beranek moved into the center.

“It was a different look for some of those guys tonight,” McAwley said. “And they all just (played) outstandingly in different positions. Henry took warmups and gave it his best shot tonight, but he wasn’t quite ready.

“Something my team has droves of is confidence. So, there was never a point where they lacked that thought they wouldn’t be able to do the job.”

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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