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...5th-seeded Queensmen rise to the top - October 31, 1996

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By RYAN JONES Citizens' Voice Sports Writer

 

Tim Wignot knew he'd inherited a good soccer team. He had no idea where it might take him.

The first-year Bishop O'Reilly mentor guided, or, to hear him tell it, rode along with, the Queensmen as they managed a 14-2 WVC Division II regular-season mark. A tie-breaker loss to Berwick kept O'Reilly from a league title, but not from the districts, into which they took a fifth seed and a nothing-to-lose attitude. And with that, they won a pair of games and found themselves, exactly one week after losing the league to the Bulldogs, playing for a district title.

Which was where they'd planned on being all along. Right, coach?

"To tell you the truth, I didn't even think about it," Wignot said, revealing the secret of first-year coaching success: Take over a talented team, then ease back and watch as they roll through the regular season and right into the district final. And, now, into the state playoffs.

O'Reilly earned that bid Thursday night at Spartan Stadium, taking the field for against top-seeded Meyers for the District 2 Class AA championship game. Already farther then he'd ever thought they'd be, Wignot's squad took one more step, getting a second-quarter goal from midfielder Matt Koch and relying on its sturdy defense the rest of the way for a 1-0 victory over the Mohawks.

O'Reilly now moves on to the first round of the PIAA playoffs, where the Queensmen will face the District 3 runner up Tuesday afternoon at Monarch Fields.

"There hasn't been any magic with these guys," Wignot said afterward. "There was a lot of talent when I got here, and the assistant coaches have helped me a lot. I didn't think we'd shut Meyers out. I really didn't. We just got that one goal, and then we hung on."

The goal came midway through the second, when Koch and the rest of his side crowded the Meyers goal mouth, waiting for a long throw-in. Senior midfidler Joe Onzik took the ball, just a few yards from the left corner of Mohawk baseline, and hurled a liner that made it all the way to the jumbled bunch of players at the goal. The ball skimmed a few heads before finding Koch, who greeted it with a quick nod, redirecting it past Meyers keeper Rich Birkenhead and in for the winner.

Then came the real test of O'Reilly's mettle - some 50 minutes of constant pressure, facing a Meyers attack that alternated sideline rushes with pushed up the gut, many of which were closed, none of which could breach the Queensmen's backline, or their will.

"We had a lot of chances, balls that hit the post, all kinds of things," Meyers coach Ray Joseph said. "But that's how soccer is. We really didn't get started into much of an attack until the second half, and it was just too late once we got started."

The most tellings moments of Meyers' frustration: getting O'Reilly keeper Vic Zulkoski out of the box midway through the third, the Mohawks pushed toward an open net, only to find senior sweeper Paul Austin waiting on the goal line; and in the fourth, watching Christian Morrales' breakaway shot ding off the crossbar, and watching Zulkoski make a pair of saves, the first a diving punch and the second a clear in the face of a charging Moses Ngolo, all in the final minute and a half.

"It was really tough, because Meyers has a good offense," Austin said. "And every time Vic comes out, I know I have to go back to the goal line. There's never a dull moment."

Austin, along with his brother Paul at stopper and fullbacks Doug Hurley, Mike Ferraro and Tom Sartin, were the foundation for the wall the kept Meyers from the scoreboard.

"You've got to give the kids all the credit," Wignot said. "I guess it just wasn't in the cards for them to score today."

 

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