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Boys soccer: Bucks’ sweet season to end in Hershey

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It was 26 degrees – and breezy – on Tuesday night at the PIAA Class 4A semifinal at Harriton.

But in the midst of the freezing temperatures, CB West goalkeeper Ryan Van Pelt was white hot.

Tied 1-1 with District One runner-up Boyertown (20-3-2) after two overtimes, Van Pelt stonewalled three consecutive Bear penalty kicks. After teammate David Roy connected on his PK, just like Bucks James Lutz and Ben Danzis had done minutes before, West advanced to Friday’s state final 3-1.

“It’s got to be one of the best feelings,” Van Pelt shared. “Seeing them run up, take the kick and me guessing the right way gets my hopes up and then my actually saving it is a whole other story. The first one, I got my hand to it but it wasn’t enough so I had to do more for the rest.

“It definitely helps getting the first one,” Van Pelt added. “It makes them think more.”

Van Pelt was outstanding on Tuesday. He saved eight, including a diving deflection of a Beckett Wenger bullet with 5:40 in regulation to preserve West’s season.

But the whole Buck defense has been other worldly in the postseason, allowing just five goals in 730 minutes of soccer against some of Pennsylvania’s best teams. Jayden Morris stopped a likely goal with a great tackle eight yards out late in the first half.

“We’ve been outworking the other teams,” Van Pelt credited. “We’re getting to loose balls faster than them, blocking shots and making sure they don’t get any chances.”

West got on the board with 27:16 left in the game. “I ran fast and kicked it,” Reed Thompson said simply. “It went in.”

“Coach has been talking to us about sticking to the game plan, get into the half space and good things will happen,” added Roy, who assisted on the goal. “I saw Reed go through, put it in there, hoped for the best and he finished it.”

Ten minutes later, Wenger punched in Boyertown’s equalizer.

The Bucks (14-7-5) incredulously have as many postseason wins as regular season wins – seven each. A team that was 3-4-4 on the evening of Sept. 26, and barely made districts as a 23 seed, is now one win away from a state title.

“Stuff happens during the regular season and it’s all a part of a journey. Our journey started off however it started off,” noted coach Stefan Szygiel. “We don’t look at it that way. Since then, I think it’s been a bit more belief and buy-in. We have almost 40 guys and everyone is listening and buying in to what we’re trying to do. And it’s working. That’s been the key. It’s not one guy standing out. They’ve been doing this collectively.”

Tuesday marked CB West’s fifth overtime postseason win – and its second involving PKs. Every single win has come on the road or at a neutral site. Harriton hosted a double header on Tuesday and the Boyertown girls played in the opener. Many Bear fans stayed for the nightcap, producing a partisan crowd.

“Honestly, no one knows us like us,” Roy believes. “We know what we’ve all been through this season and it’s been tough. But we grinded and made it to the playoffs.”

“Apparently we like being on the bus together,” Szygiel added. “I’ve been here for seven years and there is something a little different about this group. You put them on the road for this many games and they almost embraced it. It’s more time to be together and that camaraderie is huge for the program.”

The Bucks have a tall order on Friday in Hersheypark – a rematch with SOL Continental and District One champion North Penn (24-1) who topped West twice in the regular season. But the Bucks are playing at a much higher caliber since when the teams last met on Oct. 10.

CB West already has a win at Hersheypark Stadium under its belt. Jimi Leder’s golden goal in double overtime topped District Three champion Central Dauphin 1-0 in the first round of states play.

“We keep going every game,” Roy concluded. “We never give up, even if we’re losing, and we never back down.”


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