Playoff berth caps successful season for Baldwin boys soccer

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Sunday, November 1, 2020 | 11:01 AM


The Baldwin boys soccer team compiled a 6-2-1 regular-season record to clinch a WPIAL Class 4A playoff berth for a second consecutive season.

“Considering the number of injuries and other circumstances we dealt with this season, I think getting into the playoffs ended up being a good achievement,” said Dave Zinski, Baldwin’s third-year coach. “If we were healthy, I think we would have done a little more damage in the section. We lost a lot of really close games this year.

“We are definitely excited to return to the playoffs again this year.”

Prior to 2019, Baldwin had not secured a playoff berth since 2011, a string of seven years.

The Highlanders, seeded ninth, blanked No. 8 Central Catholic, 2-0, on Oct. 27 in the first round of the playoffs, advancing to a quarterfinal-round matchup Oct. 31 against No. 1 Peters Township.

It was the first WPIAL playoff win for Baldwin in boys soccer since 2007. The Highlanders defeated Norwin, 2-1, in the first round that year.

“The Baldwin (boys soccer) program is still working on having a winning mentality and learning how to win the close games,” Zinski said. “We are all working every day to turn this program into a consistent playoff contender.”

The Highlanders defeated Mt. Lebanon, 3-0, Upper St. Clair, 3-2, Brashear, 6-0 and 7-1, Bethel Park, 3-1, and tied Mt. Lebanon, 1-1, in Section 2. They ended the regular season with a 3-1 win against Thomas Jefferson.

Both Baldwin losses were by 1-0 scores, to Peters Township and Canon-McMillan, which finished first and tied for second, respectively, in section play.

The Highlanders cruised into the playoffs by going undefeated in their final four regular-season contests and took a 7-6-1 overall record into the postseason.

The team’s starting lineup for the playoffs consisted of seniors Joey Moeller (F), Ricky Bandola (F), Zach Stewart (MF), Tai Guzzi (D), Kurt Schemm (D), Joey Kosslow (D) and Michael Sabo (GK), juniors Cole Thomas (MF) and Niraj Thapa (F) and freshmen Collin Belan (MF) and Jake Kunzman (D).

“We are happy with the way we ended the regular season,” Zinski said. “It has been a while since we lost a game and the team is now healthy, so the outlook is good moving forward .

“We play in one of the toughest sections in 4A, so in order to get into the playoffs, every game must be played as if it were a playoff game. So we are as prepared as we can be to be successful in the playoffs.”

The 2020 season marked Sabo’s second year as the Highlanders’ starting goalkeeper.

“I came in sophomore year and I struggled. I was the third-string goalie that year,” Sabo said. “But luckily I trained and I worked very hard to become better. I want to thank Jackson Brandwene and my goalie coach, Justin McAtee, for helping make me into one of the better goalies in the section. With the help from my team, we have made the postseason both years I’ve started.

“We are all very grateful to be playing competitively and be in the spot we are in. We started very slow this season. We suffered injuries to key players, but we were able to turn it around, be competitive and win games.”

Moeller (12 goals) and Stewart (10), both third-year starters, were Baldwin’s leading regular-season scorers.

“I feel we could have done better in the season, but injuries set us back a little,” Stewart said. “We were in every section game only losing by more than one only once. I feel if we have our whole squad healthy, we could be a good underdog story and go pretty far in the playoffs.”

Moeller was clutch against Central Catholic, netting a pair of second-half goals to lift Baldwin past the Vikings.

Section 3 runner-up Central Catholic was 9-2 entering the playoffs. The Vikings won nine in a row between losses to Section 3 champ Norwin this season.

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