PHOENIXVILLE >> If there really was such a thing as a good loss, the unexpected setback for Phoenixville in the boys’ soccer semifinals at the Pioneer Athletic Conference two weeks ago looks like it was.
Since then, Phantom has shut out back-to-back District 1-3A competitors, including a 1-0 semi-final win over Holy Ghost Prep Tuesday night at Washington Field, to earn their first-ever trip to the District Final and PIAA Championship.
Efe Ulcay scored a pass from Nate Stewart with 20 minutes left for the most part evenly and effectively halted the Phoenixville defense for the Firebirds the rest of the way. The Phantoms will play for the title Thursday at 5 p.m. in Norristown against Springfield Township.
Second seed Phoenixville (18-2-1) had passed the PAC regular season undefeated and led the Upper Perkiomen 3-1 into the Final Four of the league, only to end up losing 4-3 in overtime.
“It was a slap in the face before the playoffs,” said Phantom coach Michael Cezarski.
“It was just like that, pretty much,” Olcay said. “We learned a lot from that match.”
Phoenixville’s best chance to score came in the first half when Olkay passed to Stewart for a shot from the right wing, but Firebird goalkeeper Timothy Devine deflected the ball and the ball veered through the goal mouth without damage.
The Phantoms dominated much of the play early in the second half. Then they shot quickly to score the only goal of the night.
“I think (Firebird’s) defense was a little sleepy,” Olcay said. “Perfect pass, I trusted myself to be able to finish it.”
The No. 3 seed in Holy Ghost Prep (12-7) had two good chances in the second half when they took free kicks right outside the top of the penalty area, but were repelled by a wall created by the Phantom defense.
The Firebirds had another chance in the final seconds of the competition when Devin fell at the offensive end and put a ball right in front of goal, but a header misfired and the Phantom shot the ball far down the field over time. Expired.
“We knew they were a really high-level team,” said Czarski. “We had to be disciplined in the back, and to be healthy defensively.”
Phoenixville had an 8-1 advantage on corner kicks. Devine made three saves while Phantom goalkeeper Jason O’Neill made four saves, three of them early in the game as the Holy Spirit dominated play.
“I thought it was a nice match,” Firebird coach Ken Lawson said. “They are a good team. No. 27 (Stewart) and No. 9 (Ulkay) are a few handfuls. We knew that. Their record is legit. I wish them well.”
The Phantoms may have reached a lull throughout the regular season, but they’ve been working hard to prepare their defense for elimination matches over the past two weeks.
“At the end of the season, we played a series of matches against teams that didn’t have the best win and lose records,” Cezarski said. “And we were 3-1 up against Upper Burke. But we worked hard in the last two weeks and in the first two play-offs we had clean sheets.”
“It means a lot to everyone,” Olcay said. “Anything to win. Even the guys who didn’t play have great spirit. I’ve been playing with all these guys since elementary or middle school. It’s great to be with them at such a massive event.”
Holy Ghost has been down for a few years compared to previous seasons, but things are looking up for Firebirds.
“This year has been a lot better,” Lawson said. “I thought the seniors did a very good job and we have some young talent. I expect to return to this position next year.”
Phoenixville 1, Holy Ghost Prep 0
Preparation for the Holy Spirit 0 0 – 0
Phoenixville 0 1 – 1
PX-Efe Ulcay (Nate Stewart)
Saves: HGP 3 (Timothy Devine), PX 4 (Jason O’Neill)
Corners: HGP 1, PX 8