Hat trick lifts Deer Lakes boys soccer past South Park in Class AA semis

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Saturday, October 26, 2019 | 10:47 PM


Deer Lakes boys soccer has used “unfinished business” as its mantra after narrow misses on the road to a WPIAL championship appearance the last few years.

Lancers junior Michael Sullivan provided the finishing touch Saturday, when he scored all three goals in a 3-0 victory over South Park in the Class AA semifinals at Mars Athletic Complex.

After heartbreaking losses in the quarterfinals two years ago and the semifinals last year, the Lancers (16-4) advanced to play top-seeded Quaker Valley (19-2) in the championship at Highmark Stadium at a date and time to be announced.

“It feels great, but it hasn’t really set in for me yet,” Sullivan said. “We have been working on this for a long time. Last year, we were just that one step short, and this year we got it done.”

South Park (15-5-1) will face Shady Side Academy (14-3-1) in the consolation game, with the winner advancing to the PIAA playoffs.

Sullivan opened the scoring in the 15th minute after the ball came to him on a clearing attempt from South Park. He put it into the net from 20 yards.

After Ryan Rodgers drew a foul just outside the 18-yard box, Sullivan lined up for a free kick and bent it around the wall and past the outstretched arms of South Park keeper Logan Thomas to make it 2-0 in the 33rd minute.

Sullivan completed his hat trick by beating two defenders on the dribble and launching a shot from a difficult angle that went past Thomas.

“All three of the goals were just individual talent,” Lancers coach Dan Yates said. “He really is a special kid. It’s brilliant to see. His drive and will to play the game is second to none. It’s unbelievable.”

Saturday’s performance capped a special week for Sullivan, who scored the winner in a 1-0 overtime victory over North Catholic in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

The Lancers controlled possession for the majority of the game, working the ball around calmly and confidently from the back line to the midfield to the forwards while limiting South Park’s opportunities to counterattack. Senior captain Ryan Butler patrolled the back line effectively along with Alex Rodgers, Tony Wannamaker and Colton Spence.

“We knew we had to come out and play our style of soccer, which means to keep possession and keep breaking the lines,” Butler said. “When you have someone like Michael Sullivan up there that can score from pretty much anywhere on the field, getting goals into the back of the net isn’t that hard.”

The possession style is something Yates brought with him to the Lancers in his first season, and he wasn’t sure if it would work at the high school level. But his group has proven it can be effective.

“I’m trying to get away from the kick and chase style … That’s not my style of soccer,” Yates said. “There’s always got to be a purpose to what we do. The boys have bought into the style really quickly. Our three at the back — Tony (Wannamaker), Colton (Spence) and Ryan (Butler) — are like a brick wall. If you get by one, you’re going to meet the other two.”

South Park’s best opportunity came in the fifth minute when a corner kick bounced around in front of the Lancers goal, but freshman midfielder Ryan Hanes cleared it before it trickled over the goal line.

For many of the Lancers, it will be their first time playing at Highmark Stadium. They are relishing the opportunity to bring home the school’s first soccer title.

“We set ourselves three objectives at the beginning of the year: win the section, get to Highmark (Stadium) and play for a WPIAL final and qualify for states again,” Yates said. “Now we have to set a new objective of going and winning it and then going as far as we can in states. I couldn’t be prouder of the boys. They’ve done really well this year. We’ll just work on a few things to get ready for next week.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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