By Eddie Phillipps
Tri-State Sports & News Service
Avonworth backup goalkeeper Luke Wagner said he enjoys the bright lights and cheering crowds. At the end of the WPIAL Class 1A boys soccer final Thursday night, all the lights were shining on him and the crowd was cheering for him, too.
Wagner was the unlikely hero in a battle decided by penalty kicks. Avonworth secured a 3-2 win with a diving stop by Wagner on the sixth Greensburg Central Catholic penalty kick by Ethan Boyle. That lifted the Antelopes (20-0-1) to their first district title.
“I knew that I had to make that save,” said Wagner. “This is kind of my element. I like the crowd, I like the lights.” Wagner made two big stops at the end of the second overtime, including a diving stop with three seconds left, to keep the score 2-2.
Riding a backup goalkeeper to the title sounds improbable, but, to Avonworth coach Tom Angell, it was no shock.
“I said, ‘You are completely prepared for this, and I have all the faith in the world you’re going to make the saves,’” said Angell. “I was not surprised at all.”
Starter Timothy Stewart was stellar before leaving with 10:30 remaining in the first overtime due to an injury to his left side that was suffered on the game-tying goal in regulation. Stewart seemed to have made a save, but the ball came loose — Stewart said he was kicked hard in his side — and Nathan Ward buried the equalizer with 22 seconds remaining.
That was the second of Ward’s two goals in the second half after Avonworth built a 2-0 lead at halftime.
“We had a game plan of trying to get out first on their team, but, for some reason, our guys, we like to come from behind,” said Tyler Solis, the coach of the 17-2 Centurions. “I don’t like it as a coach, because it gives me some stress and anxiety, but I think the guys, they do so well under adversity. “