WEXFORD — The Punxsy boys' soccer team traveled to Wexford for the opening round of the PIAA tournament Tuesday evening, and despite falling 6-0 to the defending state champions, the Hampton Talbots, the Chucks gained valuable experience and put another notch in their program's belt.
Punxsy head coach Phil Shenkle said he was proud of the way his team played, but said without seeing the level of competition at states it was hard to know what exactly to prepare for.
"The guys played hard, but it's just a whole different level of competition," he said. "You have to see it to to prepare for it, and they were just fantastic. They were the state champs from last year, solid all-around, and I didn't see a weakness."
Punxsy was able to make a game of it in the first half, holding the Talbots off the scoreboard for the first 21 minutes before Zachary Kocak scored their first goal.
With two minutes left in the first half, the Chucks still trailed by just one goal, but Evan Wilson added an insurance goal with 1:32 remaining.
Knowing they were still within striking distance at halftime, though, the Chucks came out playing hard. But their intensity was matched and bested by Hampton's skill and experience.
Hampton went on to score its final four goals in the first ten minutes of the half to put the game out of reach.
Justin Carter scored in the first minute of the half, and Joshua Gialanella scored four minutes later to push the lead to four.
In the sixth minute of the half, John Mercier notched the Talbots' fifth goal, and he scored again two minutes later to cap the scoring.
Despite the result on the scoreboard, Shenkle said this season was a big step for his team.
"We finally got to peek over the wall, and I'm just so proud of these guys," he said. "Being District IX champs is huge, and that's ultimately what we worked for. But now, we've seen what's next, and that gives us a new goal to go forward with. But I couldn't be happier with the season."
Shenkle said that immediately following the game, it was hard to put it into perspective, but one of his former players, and brother of one of his players, Tyler Peace put it all in perspective.
"Tyler came in and he said, 'At the end of the day, all that matters is I'm staring at the district champs right there.' And he's exactly right," Shenkle said. "In the last two years, we've come a long way. I didn't really like the phrase, 'This game is just icing on the cake,' but really, that's what it is for us."
Shenkle also wanted to be sure the fans knew just how much he and his players appreciated their support throughout the season, and especially Tuesday. Many fans made the trip to Wexford, but others wished the Chucks luck as they were escorted out of town by the police, fire fighters and EMTs.
"We had tons of fans at the game," he said. "A huge thank you to all the people who came and supported us, both at the game and as we were on the way out of town."