Nate Ward shakes off defenders, leads GCC on deep playoff run

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Monday, November 11, 2019 | 5:20 PM


Nate Ward doesn’t fear contact. Maybe that is because the senior soccer player at Greensburg Central Catholic who will take his talents to NCAA Division I Indiana University next season can give it right back.

Don’t forget, Ward did a lot more than just kick extra points and field goals this season for the Centurions football team. He also caught passes as a wide receiver and held on tight when the hits arrived and the tackles came. Handball was accepted then.

“You get used to it,” Ward said of the physical nature of both sports.

Ward has torn through opposing soccer back lines for 30 goals, drawing what seems like an equal share of contact at times as defenses collapse on him. But while Ward is quicker to absorb a hit than he is the attention that comes with being the frontman of a WPIAL championship team — he often deflects praise to his teammates — he continues to shine in big moments with a steely toughness.

“He wanted to play some receiver,” GCC football coach Bret Colbert said. “We saw what he could do in practice and knew we could put him out there. Nate is just a competitive kid and an exceptional athlete.”

Not only did Ward score the only goal in a WPIAL title-winning effort against Winchester Thurston, but he also flipped in a golden goal Saturday in a 1-0 overtime victory against Springdale in the PIAA quarterfinals at Peters Township.

Springdale defended Ward well, limiting his touches and shots for most of the 80 minutes of regulation, before he finally burned them just less than three minutes into overtime.

Ward smiles a lot and shows emotion when he makes a big play. He glows when he’s asked about his senior year.

“It’s just been a lot of fun,” he said. “I think about playing every game as if it’s my last. That is my mentality.”

Springdale coach Cesareo Sanchez said the Dynamos held Ward at bay for as long as they could. Ward moved to the top of the attack in overtime and pounced when a defender slipped up.

“All it takes is one mistake in a game like this, against a player like that,” Sanchez said. “It wasn’t even so much a mistake as it was (Ward) making the play.”

GCC (17-3-1) will now face Winchester Thurston (18-2) again, in the state semifinals, for a chance to go to Hershey to play for the Class A title.

The semifinal is set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hampton, where GCC will have played six postseason games since 2014 — three this season.

The Centurions never have advanced to the PIAA finals.

GCC coach Tyler Solis expects his top midfielder to prominently factor into the outcome again but knows he will need to continue to receive help from a supporting cast.

The GCC-Winchester Thurston winner gets District 1 champion Dock Mennonite or District 11 champion Moravian Academy in the final at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.

“Without a doubt, Nate has been able to step up in the big games, which is what you expect from your captain and leader,” Solis said. “In order to be successful at this level, you have to have a guy like him. I have told Nate at times, ‘This is your moment.’ We have a really great team, but you need those one or two guys to step up, and he has done it.”

Diederik-Paul Schlingemann, James Votruba-Drzal, Grant Robinson and Beck Buchanan all scored for Winchester Thurston in a 4-0 win over Lancaster County Day in the quarterfinals.

GCC and Winchester Thurston split two one-goal games during the Section 2 season before GCC’s clean sheet in the WPIAL final at Highmark Stadium.

“The guys are looking up for it,” Solis said of the fourth meeting against the Bears. “We had a tough game (Saturday), but knowing that we’re one from Hershey will be the talking point.”

GCC also made the semifinals last year but lost to Avonworth, 1-0.

“I think we will need a couple other guys to step up this next game,” Solis said. “But the major thing we talked about after Iroquois was staying switched-in in the back and they did that (against Springdale) with the shutout. If that doesn’t happen, Nate never gets his chance to score.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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