Mt. Lebanon boys avenge loss to Seneca Valley in WPIAL semifinals

Saturday, October 26, 2019 | 8:44 PM

Last season, the Seneca Valley Raiders, on their way to a Class AAAA boys soccer championship, defeated Mt. Lebanon, 7-0, in the quarterfinals.

This season, the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils got a bit of revenge, as Mt. Lebanon ousted the defending champs from the WPIAL postseason with a 2-1 victory in a semifinal Saturday at Moon High School.

Now, the Blue Devils will play in their first championship game since 2009, and their first at Highmark Stadium, next week. They will take on No. 4 Canon-McMillan at a date and time to be determined.

“We’re a proud program. We have a lot of support from our alumni, our community and athletic department and we have a lot of pride in this,” Blue Devils coach Bill Perz said. “I’m proud that these guys took it on themselves to not only do it for them, but more importantly, to do it for this group, because often times those groups of the past did it because they were on that team. I’m proud these guys, who have put in a lot of work, earned the right to play in the final.”

It didn’t look like it would come to fruition in the early going.

Seneca Valley got things going quickly, scoring in the fifth minute on a breakaway goal by senior midfielder Ben Francis.

“I was proud of the way our team played overall. We had a great start and a lot of really good chances in the beginning,” Seneca Valley coach George Williams said. “We were very encouraged by the start, but we knew they could come back and score important goals in important times.”

For Perz, it was about staying the course. His team got down early in games during the regular season and even in the quarterfinal match against Butler, which it ended up winning 3-1.

“We’ve been in that situation a bunch of times, so we knew we didn’t have to change the way we played,” Perz said. “We knew the chances would come.”

The chances did come.

In the 18th minute, Giuseppe Croce scored to even the match. It remained that way through a back-and-forth first half and spilled into the second half, as well.

That was when Croce scored again, in the 45th minute, a goal that would hold up for the rest of the match.

Croce, a senior midfielder, is on a roll, according to Perz.

“Guiseppe is a big-time player. He relishes playing in these kind of games,” Perz said. “He’s on fire.”

The chances continued throughout the second half for both teams, including several corner kicks that resulted in high-quality chances, but nothing found the back of the net, to the credit of both goalkeepers — Steven Vines for Mt. Lebanon and Adam Davies for the Raiders.

“(Our defense and Davies) played hard. They kept the game close and gave us the chance to create some opportunity,” Williams said. “Obviously, we’d have liked for a few more of those chances to go in.”

The Raiders’ season comes to an end, as does the title defense, ensuring Class AAAA will have a new champion come the end of the title matches at Highmark next week.

“After doing what we did last year and losing as many players as we did, I’m really proud of the season this group had,” Williams said. “Obviously, you want to go and win it all, but once the dust settles, we’re very proud of what this group accomplished this year.”

Mt. Lebanon last appeared in a championship match in 2009. The Blue Devils won that, at Elizabeth Forward, in double overtime over Upper St. Clair.

The Blue Devils will compete for their 11th crown in boys soccer, and they’ll play Canon-McMillan, a familiar foe. The Big Macs scored twice in the final six minutes to best No. 1-seeded Plum.

“They’re a lot like Seneca Valley and a lot like us. They have a lot of good attackers, they’re good in the back and they have midfielders that can control the game,” Perz said. “We’re excited to go play a section team again.”

Mt. Lebanon won both meetings with Canon-McMillan this season, 3-1 at home Sept. 17 and 4-3 on the road Oct. 8.

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