Ward lifts Greensburg Central Catholic to WPIAL Class A boys soccer title
Friday, November 1, 2019 | 7:45 PM
Greensburg Central Catholic’s boys soccer team has a WPIAL title, and it has a moment of individual excellence to thank for it.
Senior midfielder Nathan Ward’s rumbling run into the box produced the only goal of the game, and the Centurions claimed a 1-0 victory over section rival Winchester Thurston in the Class A championship game Friday at Highmark Stadium.
Ward, an Indiana recruit, made the game’s critical play just short of the hour mark. He received the ball on his feet at the top of the penalty area after a give-and-go with sophomore Mason Fabean before turning to make his move toward goal.
The senior split a pair of Bears defenders before weaving wide around a third to get the ball on his right foot. Ward then finished the play after his 10-yard burst with a driven shot from a tight angle that rippled the top-left corner of the net.
“I was thinking ‘hit it,’ ” Ward said. “That close, you’ve got to test the goalie sometimes. If it misses, whatever, but if it goes in, you get the result.”
It is the fourth WPIAL title for GCC (15-3-1), last year’s runner-up, but it was the school’s first in 10 years. For coach Tyler Solis, the win was the achievement he set out for when arriving at the school.
“I started in 2015, and that was the one thing I promised these seniors, that we were going to build a strong foundation. … There was no identity to the program,” Solis said. “You can see that this team had a lot, not only talent-wise, but they had a lot of organization. It wasn’t something that happened overnight. They worked very hard for it.”
While Solis praised his team’s play in the build-up to the goal, it was on the back end the Centurions’ showed their mettle against a Winchester Thurston (16-2-0) attack with 134 goals on the season.
Though they sometimes were forced into scramble mode and had to fend off plenty of corner-kick and free-kick opportunities by Winchester Thurston, the Centurions found a way to keep the shutout intact, even as the Bears threw more players forward late.
“We came together and got the job done. It feels great,” Ward said. “I was a little worried, but I have confidence in my defense. Ethan Boyle, Caleb Umbel, Ryan Reitler stepped up, Seth Skowronkek, of course, and (goalkeeper) Max House. They stepped up, and the coaches did a nice job moving me to holding mid.”
The Bears’ only two losses this season have been to GCC, and all three meetings between the teams have been settled by a single goal. Winchester Thurston played without injured striker Alex Hauskrecht, which disrupted the Bears’ flow moving forward.
“We didn’t play our game today. We have a starter out who has 24 goals this year, so not having him play hurt us a lot,” Winchester Thurston coach Adam Brownold said. “We had to move some guys around, and the chemistry wasn’t there. We had chances. We had more shots on goal, but we didn’t capitalize, and they did.”
Short-handed or not, Solis impressed upon his defense all week that limiting the Bears’ attack was vital, and the GCC players responded after allowing at least one goal in each of their previous three playoff games.
“We’ve been harping about it this week. We really want to make sure we get that shutout, and to do it at a stage like this, in a final, against Winchester … both of our (previous) games were low-scoring, so to have it be 1-0 was an excellent job from our defense,” Solis said.
Both teams progress to the PIAA Class A tournament beginning with first-round games Tuesday. GCC will play at a WPIAL site against the Erie-area District 10 champion, and Winchester Thurston must go on the road to Central Pennsylvania to face the winner of District 6.
Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.