By BRAD SPAHR
WEST GOSHEN - The Great Valley High School boys soccer team entered their opening round game of the state tournament on Tuesday night practically walking on water.
It would be hard for them not to be flying high considering they were fresh off capturing the District 1 Class AAA championship only three days prior. On top of that, the Patriots had previously won the Ches-Mont League title. And oh yeah, just one other minor thing, they also entered the contest sporting a perfect 22-0 overall record.
However, they ran into a Central York squad who could've cared less about any of that.
The Panthers, District 3's third-place team, gave Great Valley everything they could handle and more as they played fearless soccer for 80 minutes. But once again, when all was said and done, it was the Patriots flexing their muscles and rising to the occasion, as they pulled out a thrilling 2-1 victory in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs at West Chester East High School's Harold I. Zimmerman Stadium.
Great Valley (23-0 overall) got the game-winner with 21:44 remaining when midfielder Michael Sprinkel scored off a corner kick. Luis Benitez Palermo, who was robbed off a goal just seconds before, sent the corner kick into the box. Following a scrum in front of the net in which Central York attempted to clear the ball, but failed to get it out of the box, it bounced to Sprinkel who banged it into the net to send a strong crowd of Great Valley supporters into a frenzy on a chilly night.
"I just jumped up into Kyle Hoops' arms when it went in. I was so excited. I couldn't stop smiling,' said Sprinkel. "Luis has a great left-foot and he sent a great corner in. They were able to get just a little touch on it but couldn't quite clear it. Luckily I was there and was able to put it on frame.
"This was the most intense game we've played all year. It was incredibly tight from start to finish. They were one darn good third place team.'
Central York (22-4), who had won the York-Adams Interscholastic Athletic Association title before getting knocked off in the semifinal round of the District 3 playoffs, was indeed a tough opponent in every sense of the word.
The Panthers struck just over five minutes into the match, taking a 1-0 lead with 34:29 remaining in the first half, on a goal by junior forward Calvin Luckenbaugh. Teammate Erik Rishel sent a terrific ball, leading Luckenbaugh into the box, before he promptly buried it to put Great Valley on alert that they were going to have their hands full on this night.
The Patriots then caught a huge break with 23:07 left in the opening stanza, as they were awarded a penalty kick after one of their players was taken down in the box. Senior midfielder Jake Miller, who had scored two goals in Saturday night's district title win over Downingtown West, took the shot. He drilled it into the right side of the goal after Central York keeper Chris Snowadsky (eight saves) had guessed wrong and dived the other way.
That goal evened the match at 1-1, and it remained that way going into halftime.
"They were a very strong team,' said Great Valley coach Dave Moffett. "Their speed was something else.
"Six minutes into your first state playoff game and to be down 1-0 — it really showed the true character of our team. The demeanor of our guys never changed. They really battled hard tonight.'
Great Valley advances to the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs on Saturday, where they'll face a familiar foe in Conestoga at a natural site and time to be announced. Great Valley defeated Conestoga last week in a thrilling district semifinal contest that was decided in penalty kicks.
It was a big night for Chester County in general on Tuesday night in the opening round of states, as the area went 4-1 in the tournament. Along with wins by Great Valley and Conestoga, West Chester Rustin scored a huge victory over Father Judge, and Downingtown West pulled off a dominant win over Abington Heights.
In knocking out Central York, Great Valley received a sensational game from senior goalie Jon Fuydal, who made nine saves, including a number of clutch stops in the second half with the game on the line.
"Jon was awesome,' said Moffett. "He came up huge for us in goal. Patrick Murphy was all over the field as well, and Kyle Hoops really played great.
"Somebody different is always stepping up for us. We have a number of players that are capable of doing big things for us on any given night.'
In what has already been a dream season, Great Valley now finds itself only two more victories away from reaching the state championship game at Hersheypark Stadium.
"This team always believes,' said Sprinkel. "We just keep fighting and fighting.
"This has been such a great ride we've been on this season, and it keeps getting better. Hopefully it's not over for a few more games.'
Great Valley 2, Central York 1
Central York 1 0 — 1
Great Valley 1 1 — 2
Central York goal: Luckenbaugh.
Great Valley goals: Miller, Sprinkel.
Goalie saves: Snowadsky (CY) 8; Fuydal (GV) 9.