Lewisburg defeats Deer Lakes to win PIAA Class AA championship in boys soccer
HERSHEY – Lewisburg coach Ben Kettlewell was doing a post-game interview near the Green Dragons bench after the game. He was occupied with the questions and didn’t notice seniors Anthony Bhangdia and Ben Liscum grab the team’s water cooler and slowly creep behind him.
The two waited for a second before trying to dump water on Kettlewell to celebrate their huge win. Kettlewell narrowly avoided the ice cold water bath as his players laughed nearby.
You couldn’t blame Lewisburg’s seniors for wanting to douse their coach and celebrate Lewisburg adding to its already impressive tradition in boys soccer at Hersheypark Stadium. For the fourth time in its program’s long history, the Green Dragons won the PIAA Class AA championship and did so in a rout, cruising over District 7 champion Deer Lakes, 6-0.
It was definitely a reason to celebrate as Lewisburg capped an undefeated season as state champions.
“It feels amazing and of course being my last game with Lewisburg, I couldn’t ask for a better end, especially with the group of guys I’m playing with,” Lewisburg’s Jack Dieffenderfer said. “We’ve played together our whole lives and it’s just amazing seeing all the hard work come into this game and us being able to win and hold the trophy.”
The six goals scored are the most a District 4 team has ever scored in a state final and it’s a credit to Lewisburg always treating the game as if the score’s 0-0.
“When we get one, we’re going to try to push and get more and that creates more gaps. We kept looking for the gaps and making the runs with unselfish passes,” Dieffenderfer said. “It was great. We played as a team.”
Lewisburg (22-0) was phenomenal for all 80 minutes. Deer Lakes (17-2) couldn’t get any rhythm going and struggled to get chances in the Green Dragons’ defensive third. The Lancers ended the game with just one shot on goal, which came late in the second half. In the first 40 minutes, the Lancers were in Lewisburg’s defensive third just four times and came away without a single shot on goal.
“The biggest key was to first out work them and second, play our game,” Lewisburg’s Anthony Bhangdia said. “We knew we were going to come out on top if we did those.”
Lewisburg nearly scored two minutes into the game when Ben Liscum had a rocket of a shot high, trying to sneak it under the crossbar. Lancers goalie Nick Braun had a great jumping stop using his fingertips to barely bat it away and tip it backwards.
It prevented Lewisburg from scoring early, but it would be one of the few times Deer Lakes managed to stop the Green Dragons.
With 27 minutes, 13 seconds to play in the first half, Bhangdia got the ball from midfield into the 18 and used superb footwork to get the ball around a Deer Lakes defender before getting down near the 6-yard box. The senior managed to get the ball inside the 6, but got tangled up and lost his footing as the ball rolled away from him. That’s when Philip Permyashkin sprinted in and tapped in a shot toward the right post for a 1-0 lead.
Lewisburg then scored twice in a roughly three-and-a-half minute span when Dieffenderfer was fed a pass from Liscum and let go an absolute laser of a shot to the far right post for a 2-0 lead. Dieffenderfer then put in his second goal of the game to make it a 3-0 lead right before halftime.
The Green Dragons were constantly attacking Deer Lakes in the first half and fired 12 shots, all but one came from inside the 18.
“We always say that 2-0 is the most dangerous score in soccer and getting that third goal kind of gave us some security, a cushion, not to totally relax but we didn’t need to worry as much,” Permyashkin said.
Lewisburg came out in the second half just as aggressive as it played in the first 40 minutes and kept up its offense. The Green Dragons fired 10 shots in the second half, six of which were on goal, and quickly went up by four when Nick Passaniti fed a ball to James Koconis with 19:07 to play. Passaniti got the ball near the goal line and sent a cross to the right to Koconis, who drilled it for a 4-0 lead.
“We talk about we’re winning at half. It’s nil-nil first of all, but we got to withstand that first 10 minutes, because if Deer Lakes comes out and puts one in, that’s a scare,” Lewisburg’s Ben Liscum said. “So we got to dominate that first 10 and make sure we’re in control, to put that fourth one in, I think that was a dagger.”
“It relaxed me a little bit. … We come in at halftime saying its 0-0 and we got to win these 40 minutes because you never know what can happen. These guys came out in the second half and they really showed what we can do.”
The Green Dragons finished with 22 shots fired, 13 of which were on goal, and never let up until the game ended.
After Koconis made it a 4-0 lead, the Green Dragons then scored twice in a 59-second span. Liscum scored with 3:35 left to put Lewisburg ahead, 5-0, before Koconis scored to put the final goal in, 6-0.
The win meant everything to Lewisburg’s eight seniors. A year after losing in heartbreaking fashion in Hamburg to New Hope-Solebury in the PIAA Class AA semifinals, the Green Dragons wanted to redeem themselves and go out on top.
On Saturday afternoon, Lewisburg managed to do just that and end with a championship gold medal draped around their necks. Last year’s graduating seniors got a taste of a state title as freshmen with Lewisburg’s 2016 team. But this year’s seniors never got to get to the state final prior to Saturday and they weren’t going to let the chance slip away from them.
“I think with all the uncertainty eight months ago, just to have this opportunity and say ‘if we’re going to lose it, it’s going to be because of us,'” Liscum said. “I knew walking into the stadium that Lewisburg, if we get to state finals, we don’t lose. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Next year there will be another star on top of Lewisburg’s crest to signify the program’s fourth state championship. And this group of seniors made sure they did whatever they had to win title No. 4 in Hershey and did so in impressive fashion.
Lewisburg 6, Deer Lakes 0
(PIAA CLASS AA CHAMPIONSHIP)
L–Philip Permyashkin (Anthony Bhangdia), 27:13. L–Jack Dieffenderfer (Ben Liscum), 7:56. L–Dieffenderfer (James Koconis), 4:20. L–Koconis (Nick Passaniti), 19:07. L-Liscum, 3:35. L–Koconis, 2:36.
Shots: DL 1, L 13. Corners: DL 4, L 7. Saves: DL 5 (Nick Braun), L 1 (Tony Burns). Records: Deer Lakes (17-2), Lewisburg (22-0).