STEVENS POINT — There have been a lot of reasons for Stevens Point Area Senior High boys soccer coach Mark Peel to be smiling of late.
Two of them — Keondre Porter and Trev Anderson — are healthy again and giving the Panthers are dangerous combination up front for foes to worry about.
The timing couldn’t be much better with the WIAA playoffs kicking off.
Anderson made his presence felt with a pair of goals Thursday night and SPASH kept its season alive with a 3-0 win over Wausau West in a Division 1 regional semifinal at Scaffidi Field.
The Panthers, who are 10-0-1 in their last 11 matches, advance to the regional final and face top-seeded Hudson, a 10-1 winner over Superior, on Saturday.
“I think it’s heart definitely,” said junior midfielder Patrick Hefferan of the late-season turnaround. “We’re finding the motivation to dig deep and work hard for the other guys.
“We overall just played very well (tonight).”
Both team came out intense and were aggressive on the ball.
West showed no tentativeness after dropping both regular season meeting with the Panthers 3-0 and 3-2.
In fact, the Warriors put together some early pressure and created a couple scoring chances for sophomore striker Steven Lewandowski.
The only problem is Lewandowski was unable to slip the ball past SPASH keeper Matt Altmann, who received plenty of help from his defenders either clearing the ball out of trouble or blocking shots.
“(Lewandowski) had a couple opportunities tonight and he just wasn’t able to capitalize,” first-year West coach Chris Behrens said. “It would have been nice to find him a little bit more.
“The first 25 minutes was some of the best soccer I’ve seen from both teams all season long,” Behrens added. “That first goal definitely takes you down a peg and we just weren’t able to come back from it.”
Anderson used the speed and power that has been missing up front for the Panthers since the senior striker suffered a knee injury early in the season.
Noah Hintz sent a long ball from deep in the SPASH side of the field. Anderson not only caught up to the ball, but then outmuscled a Warriors defender for possession.
West keeper Thomas Hogan had come off his line in an attempt to beat Anderson to the ball. When that didn’t happen Anderson was able to dribble into open space and tuck the ball into the open goal.
“I thought our pace and our power up front just stretched them,” Peel said. “We’ve got all the right pieces now and they do their jobs. They know what their jobs are and they do their piece.
“As a team, I thought we were dynamite tonight,” the SPASH coach added. “Three-nil is a solid win.”
The Panthers would find the insurance they were looking for early in the second half.
Anderson struck again at 48:19 when he powered a shot past a defender and Hogan, who finished with 11 saves, off a West turnover.
Four minutes later, Heferan found Napiwocki with a long through ball on the right wing and the junior midfielder turned on the speed to get behind the Warriors defense.
Left one-on-one with Hogan, Napiwocki tucked the ball into the far corner to extend the lead to 3-0 and open the door for Peel to substitute freely the rest of the half.
“Getting Anderson and Keondre back up top is big because they are fast and they are powerful, so they demand respect because you can’t give them room,” Peel said. “Then we have the small guys that are quick and electric and can play off that.”
West wanted to play another game.
Instead, Behrens will have some time to assess his first season with the Warriors and continue to build off what they accomplished this season.
“It was kind of a growing year with me as a new coach,” Behrens said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the seniors and all the rest of the boys out here.”
Wausau West 0 0-0
SPASH 1 2-3
First half: 1. SPASH, Trev Anderson (Noah Hintz), 33:06.
Second half: 2. SPASH, Anderson, 48:19; 3. SPASH, Nate Napiwocki (Patrick Heferan), 52:29.
Saves: Wausau West (Thomas Hogan) 11; SPASH (Matt Altmann 5, Ryan Weber 2) 7.
Records: SPASH 15-6-1; Wausau West 4-9-0.
Scott A. Williams can be reached at 715-345-2282, or on email at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter as @SPJScottWill