Strong play from midfielders pushes Franklin Regional boys past Mt. Lebanon in soccer playoffs

Saturday, October 21, 2017 | 7:30 PM

No. 3 Franklin Regional took advantage of strong play from its trio of center midfielders in its 2-1 Class 4A first-round playoff victory over No. 14 Mt. Lebanon.

The Panthers' center midfield consisted of Justin LeDonne, Shane Popko and Auston Kranick.

Throughout the first half, the trio helped create scoring chances as the Panthers (16-2) looked to control possession from the kickoff.

“(Our midfield) did a really good job early,” Franklin Regional coach Rand Hudson said.

“We broke down later as far as playing to feet. We wanted to keep the ball on the floor.”

Popko earned the Panthers a corner kick with four minutes left in the first half.

On the ensuing kick, LeDonne scored off a header from a Domenick DiFalco cross.

The Panthers led 1-0 heading into halftime.

The Blue Devils came out with a sense of urgency at the start of the second half.

“When we started putting more pressure on, we started getting it to the outside,” Mount Lebanon coach Bill Perz said.

But even after the Blue Devils created scoring chances early in the second half, it was the Panthers who found the back of the net first.

Thad Schott sent a crossing pass to Kranick, who one-timed the ball into the net.

Kranick's goal gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead with 17 minutes, 24 seconds left in the game.

The Blue Devils responded with a goal by Sam Rothschild off a long throw-in from Brendan Daeschner.

“They're so dangerous with that throw-in,” Hudson said. “They just crowd around (our goalie). I'm glad we had two goals and not one.”

Daeschner launched several throw-ins into the box down the stretch hoping to get the equalizing goal, but the Panthers defense made crucial clearances to preserve their lead.

The midfield trio's strong play— including scoring both goals — proved to be enough to lead Franklin Regional into the second round.

“Those three in the middle have been key for us all year,” Hudson said.

The Panthers will face the winner of No. 6 Norwin against No. 11 Canon-McMillan.

Zach D'Amico is a freelance writer.

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