WPIAL title game shaping up to be classic between Greensburg CC, Winchester Thurston boys

Thursday, November 4, 2021 | 7:47 PM

If there is one thing Rob Fabean wasn’t afraid to do when he took over the Greensburg Central Catholic boys soccer team, it was experimenting.

He has been a soccer mad scientist, configuring systems that best fit his personnel against particular opponents.

The formations he has used in games look like last week’s daily numbers: 3-6-1, 4-3-3, 5-3-2, 4-4-2 and 3-5-2.

They all add up to 10, but can one or more of the sets lead GCC to its sixth championship?

The top-seeded Centurions (15-3), who have grown accustomed to adjusting on the fly in the playoffs, will have multiple shapes ready for No. 2 Winchester Thurston (18-0-1) in the WPIAL Class A championship at 8 p.m. Friday at Highmark Stadium.

GCC will go for the WPIAL’s first three-peat in boys soccer since Quaker Valley in 1993.

This will be the team’s fourth straight trip to the finals and third straight matchup against the Bears in the championship.

“One of the things we have done all season long is we’ve played so many different formations,” Fabean said. “I did it to teach them. We’ve talked about it over and over, that we’re doing this for the playoffs. We have to be prepared to step out of one formation into another. Move guys around if we have to. We’ll be ready no matter what we have to do.”

Down 4-1 in the semifinals before mounting a rousing rally to beat Eden Christian, 6-5, in overtime,the Centurions made some scheme changes in the second half. The Warriors, who lit up GCC for five first-half goals, were shut out in the second half and overtime.

Using three forwards, with junior Ben Duong moving to left back and junior Jacob Umbel sliding to the top, GCC slowed Eden’s attack, matched their physicality and produced three goals, the final a nice touch and go from junior Carlo Denis to freshman Jackson Vacanti, who finished with the golden goal 10 minutes into overtime.

“I was nervous at the beginning of the season, and I was nervous tonight,” Vacanti said. “But my teammates helped me.”

GCC had to tweak its lineup with senior standout Mason Fabean out a game after his red-card ejection in the quarterfinals against Springdale.

The Centurions flexed their depth with the six tallies sans Fabean and his team-leading 26 goals.

Mason Fabean was on the field celebrating with his teammates after the semifinal win at West Mifflin.

His father was thrilled with his team’s energy in the second half.

“We’re going to have to play a better first half than we did tonight,” coach Fabean said of the title match. “Getting Mason back will be a huge addition. He’s chomping at the bit to get back in the field. I hope we start the game with the same fire because it’s not going to be a good night for Winchester Thurston if we do.”

Denis had a hat trick against Eden, showing his speed and ability to create offense. He has been a dynamic scorer for the Centurions in multiple postseasons.

“I just played my game like I normally do,” Denis said of picking up the slack with Fabean out. “I made the runs that I saw I could make. It was a fun game.”

“Without Mason, we played really well. With him, we’ll be phenomenal.”

Mason Fabean worked with Denis on a few offensive moves during pregame warmups Tuesday, showing him how to get position on and get around Eden’s defenders.

Denis has been through a number of tight games against Winchester Thurston in his prep career.

“We have had to play very hard against them and play our best games,” Denis said. “They’ve always given us the competition that we needed. We need our best team effort. We have to play fast and look for any openings we can get.”

Said coach Fabean: “They’re a good team with good players, and they’re coached very well. They’re going to want to knock us off. They’re going to give us everything they have.”

GCC also adjusted to a change at goalkeeper, giving senior Max House the start against Eden. House had offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL. It was his first action of the season.

Sophomore Michael Oldenburg replaced him in the second half and backed the tightened defense with six saves.

House was tremendous in last year’s championship, making 12 saves in a 3-2 win over Winchester Thurston.

All of the main characters from last year’s final are back for another round.

Mason Fabean, Denis and junior Kyler Miller all scored for GCC, which held on after taking a 3-0 lead.

Junior Oliver Daboo and senior midfielder Grant Robinson scored for the Bears.

The teams have played nine one-goal games against each other since 2017.

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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