Key early-season wins have Plum boys soccer off to another strong start to season

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Sunday, September 25, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Plum boys soccer team is right where it hoped it would to be as it laid out its goals and expectations before the season.

But coach Raf Kolankowski said his Mustangs players were nowhere near satisfied despite an 8-0-1 record after a 5-1 win at Penn Hills on Sept. 20 which also lifted them to 7-0 in Section 4-3A.

“I keep telling the guys, ‘Look, you have a big X on your chest,’” he said.

“We have been ranked No. 1, and everyone is gunning for us and bringing their ‘A’ game. That is definitely what will happen over the next couple weeks. We have to be ready to meet each challenge as it comes. We have to approach every practice and every game with as much focus as possible.”

The Plum defense had given up just three goals in nine games through the matchup with Penn Hills. It posted six straight shutouts after a 1-1 draw against Upper St. Clair at the season-opening Plum tournament.

It outscored Kiski Area, McKeesport, Franklin Regional, Obama Academy, Latrobe and Gateway by a combined 32-0 before edging section foe Penn-Trafford, 2-1, on Sept. 15.

One of the most highly anticipated games in the young season saw Plum top Franklin Regional, 2-0, in a matchup of, at the time, the top two teams in the Trib Class 3A rankings.

Senior Lucas Pittman scored a goal and assisted on Tristan Ralph’s insurance tally after the teams went into halftime scoreless.

Junior Owen Zalewski had to make just three saves to earn the win in goal as the Mustangs defense helped clamp down on a normally potent FR offense.

It was the first meeting between the teams since the 2-1 FR win in last year’s WPIAL third-place consolation game with a trip to states on the line.

“The boys obviously were pumped up,” Kolankowski said. “They were ready. It’s going on the third year now that these games have lived up to the hype and build up. We’re neighbors, and the emotions are always high when we play them. They graduated two starters from last year, so we were very aware of what they brought back. The guys really rose to the occasion against them, played the style of game we wanted, and made them adjust.”

The game also was an emotional one for senior Ben Pittman who took to the field against Franklin Regional for the first time since suffering a severely broken leg in the first game between the teams last year.

Plum and Franklin Regional were to play again Tuesday at Plum.

The Mustangs faced another challenge Sept. 15 at home against Penn-Trafford. The Warriors, battling with Gateway, Penn Hills and Latrobe for playoff positioning behind the section leaders, gave Plum all it could handle before the Mustangs prevailed, 2-1.

All the scoring came in the first half, as the second 40 minutes was a defensive battle.

Lucas Pittman and sophomore Aldi Flowers scored for the Mustangs to go up 2-0 before Penn-Trafford cut into the deficit.

“(Penn-Trafford) ended up getting a direct kick from about 30 yards out, and the kid hit just an awesome shot,” Kolankowski said. “It literally hit in the upper right-hand corner where Owen just couldn’t get to it. We always stress to the defense about keeping a clean sheet, but sometimes you just have to tip your cap.”

Lucas Pittman scored at least one goal in seven of his team’s first nine games and led the way with nine goals and four assists through Tuesday’s win over Penn Hills.

Ralph had seven goals, and junior Brady French, who scored twice against Penn Hills, recorded five goals.

Flowers paced the team with six assists.

Kolankowski said his team looked strong going 1-0-1 at its opening tournament.

Plum and Upper St. Clair each scored in the second half of the tournament semifinal. Pittman scored for the Mustangs, who won a shootout in order to advance to the title game.

“Upper St. Clair is a Quad-A team in the playoffs every year,” Kolankowski said. “It was a good challenge against a team with a lot of juniors and seniors for some of my younger players to play against. We got that first goal, but they fought back like I expected them to and got the tying goal with 10 minutes left. It was good for our kids to see that kind of play right away.”

Plum returned the next day and notched its first win of the season, 2-0, over a Kiski Area team which has gone on to win seven games in a row, leads Section 1-3A at 6-0, and rose to No. 3 in the Trib Class 3A rankings behind the Mustangs and Moon.

Again, Plum played to a scoreless tie at halftime before Lucas Pittman found the back of the net twice against the Cavaliers defense.

Flowers and senior TJ Schrecengost each assisted on a goal, and Zalewski recorded a clean sheet.

“That was a good, quality win for us against a really talented team which is in control of its section,” Kolankowski said.

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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