Kruczek helps C-M kick way to PIAA playoffs
BALDWIN – Canon-McMillan’s chance at redemption lives on.
Big Macs junior forward Josh Kruczek scored two goals as Canon-McMillan cruised to a 4-1 victory over Bethel Park at Baldwin High School Wednesday night in the PIAA third-place match.
The Big Macs will face the winner of the WPIAL Class AAA title game between Upper St. Clair and Peters Township in the first round Tuesday at 8 p.m at Chartiers Valley High School. Canon-McMillan was defeated by Upper St. Clair in the PIAA quarterfinals last season, giving the Big Macs a chance to possibly knock off the defending state champions.
Canon-McMillan shook off the disappointment of losing to Peters Township, 4-0, Monday night by starting quickly on offense. One minute into the consolation match, Kruczek corralled a throw-in 25 yards in front of the net, shook one defender with a quick move to his left and fired a shot that hit the top-left corner of the netting to give the Big Macs the early lead.
“Since I have been here, we have been the best first-half team in high school soccer,” Canon-McMillan head coach Larry Fingers said. “(Against) St. Clair, we scored on them first both times this year. And with the Peters’ game, we got down 2-0 and couldn’t find our way again.”
The Big Macs could not sustain momentum, as Bethel Park earned quality scoring chances with touch passes behind Canon-McMillan defenders. The offensive pressure paid off in the game’s 23rd minute. Black Hawks senior midfielder William Ruschel found a loose ball in front of the Big Macs’ goal. With Canon-McMillan sophomore goalkeeper Christian Snatchko on his heels, Ruschel capitalized on a soft shot into the empty net. Fingers addressed the team before the game, telling each class what their career record is as members of the Big Macs’ soccer team. For a program that had not reached past the quarterfinals of the WPIAL playoffs before last season, Canon-McMillan’s current group is the exception during the program’s history.
“Our plan was getting to Highmark,” Fingers said. “All they know is success in the playoffs. If you go four years prior to them, it’s awful. The record wasn’t very good; the playoffs didn’t end well. I told the kids that this is what they are used to, but they have to understand that this is a moment you might not have back. This is not a third-place game. It’s a chance to enter back into another tournament.”
The win is Snatchko’s 15th of the season, including 12 shutouts, in his first season as the Big Macs’ varsity goalkeeper. Coming into the season, Snatchko competed with senior defender Alex Hannigan for the starting job in net. Hannigan moved to defense full-time, but the senior’s advice hasn’t left Snatchko.
“It feels great,” Snatchko said of the Big Macs’ second PIAA playoff appearance in school history. “It’s like a dream come true. (Hannigan) is always working with me. He pushes me and helps to get me better. I look toward my seniors. I don’t want to start playing with them.”
Canon-McMillan bounced back quickly, scoring three goals in less than nine minutes to close out the first half. Kruczek added his second goal on a strong, low shot from 15 yards, then the nifty offensive playmaking of the Big Macs’ forwards paid off. Senior defender Ivan Viveros gathered a lead pass inside the penalty box and beat Black Hawks’ goalkeeper Quentin Keibler to his far right.
Senior defender Nick Sodini finished the second half with a perfect header on a corner kick by Canon-McMillan. Kruczek’s strong play down low set up the opportunity when two defenders gathered around the junior forward. Kruczek launched the ball off the shin of a defender and the ensuing corner kick ended with a Big Macs’ goal.
“We tried to take care of opportunities,” Finger said. “At halftime, they were really happy, but I told them they had 40 minutes left to play. Bethel Park’s seniors are not going to let them walk away with a win.”