Plum boys soccer takes down top-ranked Franklin Regional

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Monday, September 28, 2020 | 10:19 PM


Plum senior forward D.D. Flowers thinks his team has as good a chance as anyone to compete for a WPIAL title in Class 3A.

After upsetting the two-time defending WPIAL champions, the Mustangs certainly strengthened their case.

Flowers had a goal and assisted on another as No. 3 Plum took down top-ranked Franklin Regional, 2-1, in a Section 4-3A boys soccer game on Monday night in Murrysville.

Suddenly, Franklin Regional’s 45-game unbeaten streak in the regular season is over — a streak that dated to 2017 — and Plum earned a well-deserved footnote as a giant killer.

Plum (5-1, 5-1) split the season series with the Panthers (7-1, 7-1). The neighboring schools are back to being in the same section and they’re both postseason contenders.

“We know we can make it to WPIALs,” said Flowers, who has seven goals and four assists this season. “We know we have a good team. We were pretty confident coming into the season. Our defense controlled this game.”

The Panthers, whose last regular season loss came against Penn-Trafford, had not given up two goals before the playoffs since that same season.

“Kudos to Plum. They played a great game. They’re a very good team,” Franklin Regional coach Rand Hudson said. “I told our guys it’s great to have confidence, but you have to anticipate in case something doesn’t go your way.”

Such as allowing two second-half goals.

Plum became the first opponent to score first against the Panthers all season when Luke Kolankowski took a deflection off a corner kick and surprised Panthers’ goalie Gianni Diacopoulos for a 1-0 lead in the 44th minute.

It was Flowers who headed the ball to Kolankowski for the score.

“We knew this would be a challenge, but we stuck to our game plan,” Plum coach Rafal Kolankowski said. “I am excited for our guys because this is a statement game.”

The Panthers didn’t allow much time for sulking. About two minutes after the Mustangs’ first strike, standout 13-goal scorer Anthony DiFalco delivered a long ball down the far side and Zach Johnston was waiting for it.

Johnston finished, chipping one wide of Plum goalie Gabe Kuhn to tie it 1-1.

The deciding score, though, was also the game’s most memorable highlight.

A speed burst by Flowers up the far sideline presented a serious challenge for the Panthers in the 57th minute. Flowers took possession, outran the defense, drew out Diacopoulos and fired into the lower left of the net to give the Mustangs a 2-1 advantage.

There are some players no one wants to go one-on-one with. Flowers is on that short list.

This time, the Panthers had no answer.

“Once I saw him come up, the ball bounced over his head,” Flowers said of a closing defender. “It didn’t go out, so I chased it and got a foot on it. We had to make sure we didn’t lose focus.”

Hudson knew Flowers racing down the sideline was going to be a problem.

“We’ve given up, what, four goals?,” Hudson said. “One was a PK, the other was on a corner and two were breakaways by D.D. Flowers. We don’t like seeing D.D. Flowers get loose.”

Franklin Regional had outscored its opponents, 58-2, with five shutouts.

Luke Kimmich nearly put back a rebound with about 6:45 to play for the Panthers but Kuhn got in his way to steer the Mustangs away from trouble.

Kuhn also made a diving stop of an attempt by Zach Lorenz. The Mustangs were in the right spots on just about every Panthers set piece.

“It’s tough, but it’s not our last game of the year,” Hudson said. “We created a bunch of chances but didn’t convert. Our guys were saying afterward, remember this feeling because they don’t want it to happen again.”

When the teams played one week ago, Plum cut into a 2-0 halftime deficit with an early second-half score before the Panthers pulled away for a 4-1 win. Coach Kolankowski said his team played with Franklin Regional but couldn’t finish its chances.

“Tonight, we finished,” he said. “That game, we left a lot on the table. It was nice to take advantage of our chances. Franklin is a great team, and it’s not easy to come here and win. I am proud of the way our kids stayed focused.”

Franklin Regional appeared to get on the board first, but its score was waved off. The goal, by DiFalco, was erased just three minutes in because of a handball, but Hudson said his player did not touch the ball.

Instead of a quick lead, the Panthers played scoreless soccer with the Mustangs into halftime.

“If that one counts there, who knows what happens?” Hudson said. “We had a brain (lapse) tonight. We’ll be OK.”

Plum needed some time to get warmed up to the Panthers, who shuffled their lineup a bit.

“They had some guys playing out of position and it took us about 15 minutes to figure some things out and adjust,” Coach Kolankowski said. “Once we did, we were more comfortable.”

Hudson said he thought Franklin Regional played better overall this time than the last time it faced Plum.

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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