Pine-Richland boys soccer ramps up defense, gets back in playoff chase

Saturday, September 23, 2023 | 11:01 AM

In the last couple weeks, the Pine-Richland boys soccer team put itself back into the conversation for a playoff spot with three consecutive shutouts.

It was a much-needed stretch for the defending WPIAL Class 4A champion Rams after an 0-4 start to Section 1 play.

The four teams ahead of them were the next four on the schedule beginning with Butler on Sept. 21 and three of the four matches were at home, so the chance to earn the right to defend their title was right in front of them.

“Flipping the script and being able to play some home matches against the top teams should help us,” Pine-Richland coach Jordan Wiegand said. “It took some time to figure things out. I know we had a hot start last year that put us in a good position, but every season is going to be different.”

In their final three matches of the first round of section play, the Rams beat Central Catholic, 2-0, North Hills, 3-0 and Shaler, 4-0.

Mathew Koss had a hat trick in the win over North Hills. Finn Kichi scored twice and Koss and Mark Cashman scored once each against Shaler.

Getting goals from multiple players is a formula the Rams will need to use in upcoming matches.

“It was nice to see us find goals from all over the place,” Wiegand said. “We don’t have a distinct goal scorer. You look at every other team, they have someone that they absolutely rely on every match, and that’s just not our identity. We have to move the ball around and any given game, we could have a different goal scorer. It’s nice to see a bunch of different guys contributing, but we just want to see it more consistently.”

The other part of the recent success has been goal prevention. That starts with senior keeper Cadan Bennett, who was first-team all-section last season. Bennett has four shutouts. He’s bolstered by an experienced back line that includes seniors Nathan Bang, Jack Nolin and junior Brady Baker.

“Cadan is a great leader out of the back,” Wiegand said. “His experience from last year has transferred over and he’s set the tone. We have some good defenders in front of him that have returned as well and we’ve been getting better defensively throughout the season. Cadan is a guy that you can go to and say, ‘Hey, we need you to make a few big saves tonight,’ and he typically does, which puts us in a position to be in every game.”

Pine-Richland’s four losses came to Butler, North Allegheny, Fox Chapel and Seneca Valley, but each game was tight.

The Rams lost to Butler, 1-0, in the opener and was tied 1-1 with North Allegheny until the Tigers scored twice in the final 30 seconds. Wiegand said the Fox Chapel match was the team’s worst performance, a 2-0 loss. The Rams bounced back to play Seneca Valley tough, but ultimately fell 1-0.

The Rams entered the second half of section play in fifth place but have a path ahead of them to climb out. They know what they need to do to get back into the race.

“In past seasons, when we finished fifth, we were usually relying on other outcomes of games and played a little bit more conservative,” Wiegand said. “This time around, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Every game matters, but these next four are very crucial for our season.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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