LEWISBURG — For the fourth time in the last five years Lewisburg’s boys soccer team is into the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals.
The Green Dragons will hit the pitch in the elite 8 game against District 12 champion Lansdale Catholic at 2 p.m. today at Northeastern High School.
And although Lewisburg brings a 21-0-1 record into the showdown with the 9-4-3 Crusaders, as far as head coach Ben Kettlewell is concerned his team is 0-0 and playing its best soccer at the right time.
“I always think it is best for a team to play its best at the end of the season, but our job is just to make sure we are better than Lansdale Catholic (today) and no one else,” said Kettlewell, whose team opened the PIAA playoffs with a 4-0 win over Wyoming Seminary on Tuesday. “The last game doesn’t matter. Our record is 0-0.”
“The boys’ mindset is on Lansdale Catholic and making sure we take care of our business,” added Kettlewell. “We are confident we can play with anyone, but we need to prove it on the field.”
Lewisburg will have to play its best against a tough Lansdale Catholic team that Kettlewell assures is better than its record would indicate. The Crusaders compete in the ultra-competitive Philadelphia Catholic League and are making their second trip into the PIAA quarters since 2016.
“Their record is very misleading. They play in a difficult league and continue to make the state playoffs year after year,” said Lewisburg’s coach. “I feel the PCL is a high-quality league, as (I) have played with several high-quality PCL players during my college years.”
Lansdale Catholic, as expected, features plenty of talented players on its squad.
One of them is senior midfielder Sean Cole, a co-captain, who is one of the team’s scoring leaders on the season. In the Crusaders’ first-round game against Lancaster Mennonite, a 2-1 win (4-3 on PKs), Cole scored a regulation goal and then connected on the deciding penalty kick that got his team in the quarters.
At the other end for Lansdale Catholic is junior goalkeeper Kellen Ward, who made five saves in the win over Lancaster Mennonite, including three on penalty kicks in the shootout.
“I know Lansdale has several very good players through the middle of their lineup, including an excellent goalkeeper,” said Kettlewell. “They pride themselves on stopping their opponents from scoring.”
That means the Green Dragons will have to kick their offense into high gear in order to find success against the Crusaders.
Junior midfielder Anthony Bhangdia leads Lewisburg with 40 goals and 10 assists, plus Ben Liscum is second with 24 goals and 34 assists after he scored twice against Wyoming Seminary.
The Green Dragons, however, are capable of getting goals from a number of different contributors. No less than five players on the team have at least six goals on the season — not including Eli Adams and Alan Daniel, who both added goals versus Wyoming Seminary.
“Our team was able to score when we needed to. It is important for us to create opportunities for anyone on the field to score,” said Kettewell. “It doesn’t matter who finishes the plays. We don’t have a mindset of having a leading goalscorer or playmaker, the whole team can take the load when needed.
“(The keys to the game) are to figure out what the other team is going to give us and adjust. We need to play together and finish our opportunities,” added Lewisburg’s coach.
That philosophy helped Lewisburg win back-to-back state titles in 2015 and 16. Ketttlewell was a co-head coach on those two teams along with Skip Kratzer, Terry Gerlinski and Larry Winans.
The current seniors on the team helped the Green Dragons win the title in 2016 as freshmen, but Kettlewell insists that his upperclassmen are ready to make their own impact on the state tournament.
“Many feel it is their turn to lead this group and carry on the tradition of Lewisburg Soccer,” he said. “The whole team (players and coaches) have been telling each other the importance that each one, young or old, has toward the team’s success.
“Each year it is a different team and a different story,” added Kettlewell. “It definitely doesn’t get old, as we are very excited to have the chance to play in these big games. We don’t take anything for granted.”
But don’t ask Kettlewell if his players all have their sights set on another state title. The Green Dragons are just concentrating on Lansdale Catholic at the moment and not looking at what lies ahead.
“We are not looking anywhere past (today), so there hasn’t been thought of what is beyond,” said Kettlewell. “Our mentality is one game at a time and to enjoy the process.”