The New Hope-Solebury Lions wanted to win Tuesday at Holy Ghost Prep.
Fortunately for New Hope, the Lions didn’t have to win.
Stefen Melekos scored in the 49th and 71st minute to give the Firebirds (12-5, 10-3 Bicentennial) a 2-1 victory. New Hope co-captain Ben Koeppen spoiled the shutout with 6:45 remaining.
“The ball came out from our defensive third,” Koeppen described.
“Their left back came out to get the ball but I beat him to it, took it down the line and put it in for my teammates. It bounced around a bit, but I was in the right place and time to put it in.”
“We wanted to play the same way we played last time. We did,” New Hope coach Dave Bachart said simply. “We just didn’t finish our chances in the first half.”
New Hope defeated the Firebirds 1-0 in September. With a win over MaST Charter in Thursday’s season finale, the Lions will clinch the Bicentennial Independence title.
The Lions (12-5, 10-2 Bicentennial), who beat the Panthers 6-0 at MaST last month, are assured of hosting the Oct. 29 semifinals of the District One/12 2A tournament. The winner clinches a PIAA berth.
“Our philosophy as coaches didn’t change,” Bachart explained. “We were still coming here to win. This is going to be the level of play we’ll see in the postseason, so we don’t take games off. But it will be nice to have two weeks off.”
The Lion defense posted a zero in Tuesday’s first half. Holy Ghost had four first half corner kicks, yet only seriously threatened once. Defender Exiel Olivera Galindo made a nice block of a close range shot on frame.
“I feel like in the first half we were pressuring the ball well in the middle,” Koeppen explained. “We weren’t letting them slip out. We did well locking up in the midfield. In the second half, we gave them their space and they got those diagonal runs from (Melekos) to get some goals.”
Lions keeper Kyle Campbell saved six. Offensively, Koeppen and Davis Nagg put hard shots on goal minutes apart midway through the first half.
New Hope won its first 10 Bicentennial contests, outscoring its opponents 55-6. “I think it takes a lot of communication between all players,” Nagg said, “and effort on and off the ball.”
Bachart points to his movement when asked about the Lions’ biggest asset. “We’re not a kick and run team. We like to connect passes and get a nice buildup up the field,” he explained. “We’ve had success against almost every team we’ve played this year. We may not have had the result that we wanted but we moved the ball really well.”
The Lions challenged themselves with four games against SOL competition. New Hope beat Pennsbury 2-0 on Oct. 11 and fell to CB East and CB West by one goal each earlier in the fall.
“It’s good experience to play for the postseason,” Nagg observed, “and better schools that we’ll hopefully play in states.”
New Hope aims to three-peat as District One/12 champs. The Lions advanced to the second round of states in 2017 and fell in the first round to eventual champion Fleetwood last year.
“(Today) should have been a win to get us prepared for the postseason,” Koeppen offered, “but we’ll take it as a learning experience.”