Mars stands in way of 3-peat for Franklin Regional boys soccer

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Tuesday, November 3, 2020 | 12:01 AM


With the Highmark Stadium experience a been-there-done-that kind of thing for the Franklin Regional boys soccer team, the Panthers are just focused on winning another game.

Their next game, though, happens to be the WPIAL Class 3A championship, and a win would mean a third straight title for the Panthers.

Of course, the WPIAL finals are not being played at Highmark Stadium this year because of covid-19 concerns and the WPIAL deciding to move the title games to high school venues.

The No. 2 seeded Panthers (16-2) will take on No. 1 Mars (17-0) at 8 p.m. Thursday at North Allegheny.

No big deal, right?

“We could play in an icy parking lot at this point,” Franklin Regional coach Rand Hudson said. “It doesn’t matter where; we just want to get it done.”

Junior all-state forward Anthony DiFalco scored a golden goal early in overtime to lift the Panthers to a 2-1 win over postseason rival West Allegheny in the semifinals Monday night at Panther Stadium. Now, all that stands between the Panthers and a three-peat is undefeated Mars, which has allowed just four goals all season.

“We don’t know much about Mars; we haven’t played them,” said DiFalco, a 36-goal scorer. “We need to put a lot of hard work into (preparing for this game).”

Seniors Jake Sciorilli and Cole Kaforey are key back-liners for a defense that has produced 45 shutouts over three seasons. But senior Luke Kimmich has seen an increased role as a defender, with freedom to play up in certain situations.

“I think that presents a challenge for teams,” Hudson said. “They don’t know what to do with (Kimmich).”

Senior goalkeeper Gianni Diacopoulos had nine saves, including a high-reaching stop of an Indians’ attempt shortly before DiFalco’s deciding score.

Like West Allegheny, Mars will test the Panthers’ tightfisted defense, which has surrendered just eight goals itself.

A more patient approach might be needed to crack the Fightin’ Planets.

“We knew (West Allegheny) would be a tough game,” Panthers senior midfielder Zach Lorenz said. “We were frantic in the first half, even though we had a lot of chances. Once Blake (Cooper) got it to Tony (DiFalco), you could see … it was game over.

“We slacked a bit late in the regular season, but I think we’re more focused now. We’re going to have to play our hearts out because Mars is a very skilled team.”

Lorenz plays cup and travel soccer with two Mars players, Tyler Nymberg and Dane Beller.

The Panthers have had larger goals since this unusual season began. Those goals have not changed.

“The last two years, we feel like we fell short,” Hudson said. “They want to win a state title. We have a lot of work to do with Mars, of course. Mars is strong and hungry. But our kids want the triple: section, Wips and state.”

Thursday night’s winner goes to the state playoffs.

As the lower seed, Franklin Regional will wear white jerseys in the final for the first time.

“We’re coming off a big game and we can’t have a letdown,” Hudson said. “Our kids are excited and confident. I like our chances against anybody.”

The Panthers and Planets each have 12 shutouts.

Like all WPIAL teams, Franklin Regional has done its part to stay safe during the pandemic. But the Panthers have taken it a step farther.

A number of starters have asked to attend classes remotely only through the playoffs as a precaution.

Students have been on a 3-and-2 format for school, with two days of in-person classes.

“They didn’t want to take a chance,” Hudson said. “It was them deciding to do this. It’s a sacrifice they’ve made for the team.”

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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