WEST GOSHEN - With one of the best goalies in the district in senior Todd Morton, along with an outstanding back line of defenders that includes starters Joey Benzing, Vince Feola and Zach Roberts, the West Chester Henderson High School boys soccer team doesn't need much help from its offense.
That was the case on Thursday night as the No. 5 Warriors hosted a huge game against No. 12 Unionville in the second round of the District 1 Class AAA playoffs.
Senior midfielder Anthony Daniele scored a terrific goal just seven minutes into the contest, and that held up to be the game-winner thanks to a sensational defensive effort by Henderson as they knocked off the Indians by a score of 1-0 on a unseasonably cold night at J. Oscar Dicks Stadium.
Daniele's goal came with 32:55 to go in the opening half as he scored on a direct kick from way out. Daniele struck a terrific shot from the left side of the field from about 40 yards away, getting it over the wall of defenders, and beautifully placed into the top right corner of the net.
That early goal was enough to send the Ches-Mont League National Division champs into the district quarterfinals.
"Obviously it was huge to get a goal early on like that. It definitely relieves so much of the pressure,' said Daniele. "I saw their goalie was cheating to the near post behind the wall, so I struck it to the far post.
"I'm so proud of everyone on this team. This was a huge win. It was definitely the most intense game we've played all season, especially with the circumstances being so high where the loser of the game is done for the season.'
West Chester Henderson (16-3-1 overall) is the midst of one of its best season in years, and now the Warriors will move on to the district quarterfinals. They'll host No. 20 Conestoga on Saturday at J. Oscar Dicks Stadium at a time to be announced.
Unionville (11-5-4), meanwhile, saw its season come to an end. It was a tough loss for the Indians, who really battled on Thursday night, but just couldn't get one by Morton, who was unbelievable in making 12 saves to pitch the shutout.
Unionville controlled play in the second half, and had eight shots on goal in the final 40 minutes, and plenty of other chances as well. The Indians, for example, where desperately pressuring for the equalizer down the stretch, and with 2:48 left nearly got it on one of their many solid scoring opportunities. From about 40 yards out, junior defender Brian Cortese struck a great ball on net that Morton had to jump up and tip just over the crossbar.
"Todd was absolutely huge for them,' said Unionville coach Rich Garber. "It's a tough loss, but I'm so proud of the effort. My kids fought their hearts out.
"It was a real battle here tonight. We didn't back down at all, and our guys left it all on the field. That's about all you can ask for.'
Unionville's best player, senior midfielder James Crowley, suffered an injury in the Indians' first round win. However, Crowley gutted it out and had a number of strong shots on free kicks that just wouldn't get by Morton.
That was the type of match it was as both teams really played well in a pressure-packed situation.
Henderson head coach Sean Ryan was thrilled with the way his side handled the atmosphere, and rose to the challenge in such a big game."That's a great team [Unionville] over there, and to shut them out in this environment is huge,' said Ryan. "Our backs were very solid, and with Todd Morton back there in goal, he really makes it tough on people. Plus I thought Scott Lorback was outstanding tonight. He was all over the field.'
Henderson has been playing tremendous soccer all fall. This is the first year in nearly a decade that they have won a game in districts. Now they find themselves one more victory away from reaching the semifinals of the tournament, and also earning a state playoff berth. They'll have to do it against a tough Conestoga squad, who has pulled off two upsets already. The No. 20 Pioneers have beaten No. 13 Perkiomen Valley, and then No. 4 Central Bucks East. Both wins have come via penalty kicks.
The Henderson-Conestoga loser will still have life, though, and that's important, as the team that does suffer the loss will be one of four who will battle in the consolation bracket for District 1's fifth and final state playoff berth.
Henderson, however, wants no part of that as they have their sights set on a district title. The Warriors are the second lowest seed remaining in districts, behind only No. 1 Great Valley. The No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds have all been knocked out of the postseason already.The Warriors are also one of four Ches-Mont teams that have reached the final eight of the tournament. Great Valley, Downingtown West and West Chester Rustin are the others still fighting along in what has been a sensational start to the postseason by the league.
"I'm really happy for our kids,' said Ryan. "Getting into the quarterfinals is a big deal for them. I can tell, though, that they aren't satisfied, and that's a big thing. They want to keep this thing going as long and as far as they can.'
W.C. Henderson 1, Unionville 0
Unionville 0 0 — 0
W.C. Henderson 1 0 — 1
W.C. Henderson goal: Daniele.
Goalie saves: Shafer (U) 6; Morton (WCH) 12.