Latrobe boys soccer proves it is for real by blanking Franklin Regional

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023 | 10:54 PM


Latrobe likes to rely on an overcrowded midfield to control the tempo and produce occasional run-outs for scoring chances.

It’s the boys soccer team’s bread and butter.

The game plan worked as the tone-setter in Tuesday night’s surprising Section 4-3A victory against Franklin Regional.

The Wildcats pushed ahead on a sagging and late-acting defense and caught the Panthers off guard for an early goal, then built on the momentum for a 3-0 win at Rossi Field.

The message here is: Yes, the Wildcats are for real.

Beating a traditional power should do wonders for Latrobe (5-2, 5-2), a program desperate to be a part of the WPIAL playoff conversation again. The statement win validates the team’s strong play of late under second-year coach Jake Rice.

Franklin Regional (6-3, 5-2) had won four straight and had given up five goals all season.

“It’s been coming, a win like this,” Rice said. “We had Plum on the ropes. If you can play well against teams like Plum and Franklin Regional, it tells you a lot. This is quite a feeling.

“To get a clean sheet against Franklin Regional? That’s amazing.”

While Franklin Regional was flat and could not build any offense, Latrobe was crisp and prepared. It looked like the better side.

“We stuck together after that hard loss to Plum,” said Latrobe forward Ben Bigi, who scored his first goal of the season. “To be honest, we didn’t have any doubts that we were going to lose this game.”

Latrobe did, after all, take No. 4 Plum to the brink last week in a 2-1 loss in overtime.

Now, the rest of the section is on watch because the upstart Wildcats are here to play.

“They had a game plan, and they executed it,” Franklin Regional coach Lukas Petersen said. “They outplayed us in every way. We lacked character, discipline, all the tangible stuff. We were 11 individuals pretending to be a team.”

In the 14th minute, Devon Webster found himself on a 2-on-1 push opposite teammate Roman Agostini.

Webster set up Agostini with a gentle touch pass in front of the net, and Agostini finished to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.

With the Panthers seemingly out of position again in the 23rd minute — or at least late closing in — Bigi dribbled at goalkeeper Aryan Selokar, who was well drawn out of the cage, out of the 18-yard box.

Bigi went right as Selokar went left and wrapped a shot around him, fitting the ball neatly into the lower-left corner to make it 2-0.

“I saw the rush, and I saw the goalkeeper in my peripheral vision,” said Bigi, the kicker for the football team. “I just got it around him and scored.”

After Franklin Regional began to finally build a little bit of possession early in the second half, the Wildcats struck again. This time, John Massaro followed up a deflection off Selokar and ran up the putback for a 3-0 advantage.

“The third goal was massive,” Rice said. “We were more in control than had we let one in and it was a 2-1 game.

“I wasn’t really comfortable, though, until there were about seven minutes left.”

Wildcats keeper Reese DeCasolo made a diving save on a free kick in the 77th minute.

He finished with five saves. Franklin Regional had nine shots to the Wildcats’ seven.

“We’re at a crossroads right now,” Petersen said. “We have to reevaluate, from the coaching staff down to the team.”

Franklin Regional played without two injured starters in Tyler Pipon and Fabrizzio Costa.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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