Both Pleasant Valley coach Chris Pachuta and his counterpart at Emmaus John Cari agree that the gap has closed between the top soccer teams in the Mountain Valley Conference and those in the Lehigh Valley Conference.
The Bears put up a strong battle against the fourth-seeded Hornets, who went unbeaten in the LVC during the regular season. But Emmaus found the back of the net once in each half and kept the 13th seeded Bears off the board in recording a 2-0 win on the turf at Emmaus' Memorial Field.
Emmaus (16-3-1 overall) advances to Friday's quarterfinal round to face fifth-seeded Liberty. Pleasant Valley, meanwhile, ends its season at 8-10-2 overall after falling to the Hornets for the second time in the last three years in the post-season.
The loss also marked the third straight year that the Bears were ousted in the opening round.
After graduating 10 starters from last year's record-setting team which went unbeaten during the regular season in the MVC and finished with an overall mark of 18-3, the Bears definitely had their ups and downs during this season.
"This whole season was learning experience for us," said Pachuta, the Bears third-year head coach. "At the beginning of the year we really struggled and it was a rude awakening after last year when we walked through things. I think some of the kids that were stepping in as juniors thought it was going to be the same thing this year but unfortunately it doesn't always happen like that."
Both teams headed into Wednesday's game looking to rebound after falling in their respective league tournaments.
The Bears took MVC champ PM East took penalty kicks while top-seeded Emmaus was stunned in the semifinal round by upstart Easton.
The Hornets scored the only goal they would need 12 minutes into the game as senior Patrick Groh notched his team-leading 13th goal of the season. The Philadelphia University-bound Groh took a beautiful left-footed crossing pass from fellow senior Blair Geiger and headed it past Bears senior goalie Schyler Jacobson into the near post giving the Hornets the 1-0 lead.
Emmaus controlled play for much of the first half with a number of good scoring opportunities but could only muster one goal against a stout Bears defensive unit led by MVC first team all stars juniors defender Chris Skutnik and Jack Wathen.
"None of these kids, myself included, think there's a team in the district that we fear," said Pachuta. "Being down 1-0 to these guys is no different than being down 1-0 to Stroudsburg or Pocono Mountain East. "
After a sluggish first half in which they were able to generate little offense against a Hornet until that allowed just 16 goals all season, the Bears were finally able to get a couple of scoring chances in the second half but were not able to find the net.
Meanwhile, Emmaus did, and all but ruined the hopes of a Bears upset as senior Stevie Castellani netted the Hornets second goal of the game with a little over 12 minutes remaining.
Cari knew he was facing a much improved Bears team then he saw back in late August when the two teams scrimmaged.
"Pleasant Valley's record did not indicate the quality of a team that they are," he said. "They've played well as of late. They took Pocono Mountain East to penalty kicks and they got real hot towards the end of the season and they're a much better team than their record indicates."
While Emmaus is moving on, Pachuta is hoping his young team (only five seniors) learns from a game like this.
"They (Emmaus) have been here before, they have that pedigree," he said. "That's something were trying to build on here with PV."