MARS — The most successful season in the history of the Indiana boys’ soccer team came to a close Thursday at an all-too familiar ending point.
There won’t be a berth in the state playoffs. Or an appearance in the WPIAL championship game, or the accompanying visit to Highmark Stadium, the home stadium of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and the site of the WPIAL championships.
And it’ll probably sting for a few days, maybe a few weeks. But what the Indians did this year won’t fade from the record books, and they will only realize it with time.
Shady Side Academy kept Indiana’s potent offense in check and scored twice in a nine-minute span in the second half to pull away for a 3-1 win in a WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal-round game at the Mars Athletic Complex and bring to a halt the winningest season in Indiana history.
“This loss takes nothing away from the success of our season,” Indiana coach Todd Myers said.
“These guys are hanging their heads now just because they lost, but I think they’ll look back and realize how great of a year it was. Three losses all year. There’s just so many good things that happened this season especially when we lost as many letterman as we did last year. There were a lot of guys here without varsity experience. The way they stepped in and filled in those positions, I can’t say enough about these guys.”
Indiana was making its third appearance in the WPIAL quarterfinals since 2004, and the Indians dropped to 0-3 at that stage.
“We’ve never made it past the quarterfinals,” Indiana coach Todd Myers said.
“We liked our chances this year, but Shady Side Academy came to play, too.”
“It’s always tough losing playoff games,” Indiana senior Jem Bailey-Orchard said.
“We always had the goal, two more games, and we’re in states, and we get to play at the Riverhounds stadium. It’s a bummer, but you know we did everything we could.
“We’re obviously upset, but I think we have our heads held high. I think we made some long-lasting relationships.”
The Indians withstood Shady Side’s pressure early in the second half and got a few fortunate bounces, but Indiana was only delaying the inevitable with its offense rendered ineffective.
Indiana wasn’t particularly sharp in the opening half, either, but junior Cole Rosenberger converted one of the Indians’ few scoring chances and they managed to go into halftime tied at 1.
But the Indians took a step back in the second half. They struggled to string together passes or to possess the ball in general. And eventually, Shady Side broke through.
Matt Rytel scored twice in the game’s final 20 minutes to seal Indiana’s fate.
“I just thought in the first half, we were kind of in second gear,” Shady Side Academy coach James Meara said. “I was looking for our leaders and our captains to step up in the second half, and there was a few choice words at halftime. It got the reaction we needed. We kind of changed a few things around and went a little bit more on the attack and direct in the second half, and it paid off. It was a bit of a gamble because it left us a little open in the back, but the roll of the dice worked.”
For the Indians, the things they were going to fix in the second half never got fixed.
“It’s not a matter of what changed (in the second half), it’s a matter of what didn’t change,” said Bailey-Orchard, the leader of the Indians’ back row of defenders, “because what we talked about at halftime was keeping possession, and I don’t really think we stepped that up as much as we needed to. … I just think it’s a matter of possession and we didn’t really fix it after halftime like we said we were going to. You know, heavy touches, not completing passes, and I think we lacked a little bit of confidence, maybe came out a little scared. But we did the best we could, and I just think in the end they were the better team tonight.”
Indiana entered the season with few proven players, and Myers was uncertain what to expect. But it couldn’t have turned out a whole lot better for Indiana, which finished the year 15-4-1, setting the single-season school record for wins in the process.
“That’s something they talk about,” Myers said. “That’s not something we ever talk about. But I do know it was a big deal for them to get that 15th win because we got close, and we were talking about what our most wins were. And they kept asking me so eventually I found it, so I think that 15th win was a huge deal for them. Ten, 11, 12, that happens often, but to have a 15-win season doesn’t get to happen very often. Not many teams get to say they had a 15-win season.”
Not a bad note for the seniors to end their careers on. The Indians’ eight seniors were part of three playoff teams after winning two games as freshmen, they captured a section title and now, have the wins record.
Also, junior David Zimmerman finished the season with 21 goals, breaking the single-season record of 19 Rosenberger had set last year. Rosenberger’s goal in Thursday’s loss was his 18th of this season
“Only fond memories,” Bailey-Orchard said. “In the beginning we may have had some rough patches with relationship issues, with each other, but overall fond memories. We all hugged it out in the locker room. It’s all good the memories. We were so close. We refer to each other as brothers and I don’t think we’re anything less than that.
“We’ll always have the school record together. The last three years we’ve been setting records in terms of how many playoff games we won, how many games we won, how many goals we scored, one of the years, we got most shutouts. I have only fond memories.”