STROUDSBURG – Much like their Mountain Valley Conference championship game from a year ago, Pleasant Valley and Pocono Mountain East's 2011 semi-final soccer contest once again came down to penalty kicks.
And, much like last year, the outcome was just as heartbreaking for the Bears.
Despite being outplayed for the majority of the night, Pocono Mountain East bested Pleasant Valley 4-2 in penalty kicks and won by a final of 2-1. Last year the two teams needed 16 kickers to decide the penalty kicks. This year they needed just eight.
"I think we worked hard," said Pleasant Valley head coach Chris Pachuta. "I think we created a lot of opportunities to score in the second half and we just got unlucky. We definitely had our chances and the kids played as hard as they could.
"I can't fault them. They left it all on the field. And I wouldn't change anything with the penalty kicks. Once you get into penalty kicks it's a crap shoot. It happens."
The Cardinals struck first eight minutes into the game when Michael Marin broke free off a pass from teammate Aadil Mendez. Mendez carried the ball near midfield and passed to his right to Marin. Marin corralled the ball as he broke free and found himself one-on-one with Pleasant Valley goalie Schyler Jacobson. Marin went low and to the right to put his team ahead early.
After that it was all Pleasant Valley. Between then and the end of overtime, the Bears outshot the Cardinals 22-3 and had eight corners to the opposition's two. They also had a handful of chances to score, but were turned away on some great diving saves by East goalie Vincent Clemson. At least three times Clemson dove and denied the Bears' offense at the doorstep.
Still, the Bears persisted and finally broke through the wall of Clemson with six minutes to go in regulation. Jordan Walters gained possession just outside the East box and crossed the ball over to Mike Masullo. Clemson had to go from the near post to the far post, and as he did Masullo shot the ball back to where Clemson had been and knotted the game up at one.
Pleasant Valley would continue to have great scoring opportunities at the end of regulation and in overtime, but failed to put any away. Being unable to score on those chances may have cost the Bears in the end.
"That has been the story all year," Pachuta said. "We dominate a lot of the possession and we keep the ball and put pressure on people. Yet we can't put the ball in the back of the net. Sometimes it happens and we just aren't there.
"We are young though. We have a lot of juniors and sophomores playing. We are going to learn from this and move on."
Masullo started off the penalty kicks with a goal to put the Bears ahead. Marin then answered with a goal of his own to tie things up.
Walter was the Bears' second shooter, but was stopped on another diving save by Clemson. East's David Maloney followed with another goal to put the Cards ahead by one.
Pleasant Valley's Jack Wathen and Pocono Mountain's Elias Dimitropoulus traded goals before the Bears' Berkay Kasal sailed his shot high and over the crossbar. With the game to be had, East's Stephen Yarosh sealed the deal with the game-winner.
After having not made a MVC title game since 1997, the Cardinals will be going to their second consecutive championship game.
The loss will hurt the Bears' (8-9-2, 7-5-1) seeding in district play, but the most important thing to Pachuta is the fact that his team has qualified and will be able to control its own destiny.
"Right now we are playing the way we want to play," said Pachuta. "We are settling the ball down and creating opportunities, which we couldn't do for a stretch during the middle of the year.
"I'll take that going into districts. If all of a sudden we get hot and hit one, two, three of them in a row and start scoring goals – you are going to make that run. It's just like the NCAA tournament in basketball. Anything can happen once you get there."