OLEAN, N.Y. — It was just the sort of sendoff Bradford soccer’s senior group had hoped for.
After piecing together one of the best stretches in BAHS soccer history, including back-to-back District 9 championships in 2018 and 2019, seven Owl seniors — Ian Grady, Colton Swanson, Isaiah Pingie, Evan Schmidt, Ayron Hart, Ryan Miller and Brennan Grady — said their final goodbyes to high school soccer in style at Sunday’s Corporate Cup Soccer Showcase.
Pennsylvania picked up its first Corporate Cup boys game win since the series began in 2017 with a 4-1 dismantling of their hosts in New York, and did so in large part due to strong performances from each of the seven Owls.
Three of Pennsylvania’s goals came off the feet of BAHS alumni, while goalkeeper Schimdt and defender Hart were key in keeping New York’s attack at bay.
That first win for the Keystone State was something the group had its eyes on entering the game.
“It felt great (to win). Coming in, we all looked at it like we really needed this win and to bring the trophy back to Pennsylvania,” said Pingie, who’s off to Clarion University to study marketing and business management. “It was great, especially being out there the last five minutes with Bradford guys. It was a sweet victory to get together one last time.”
Pingie was one of three PA players to score in the first half. His goal came at the 37:26 mark and put Pennsylvania up 2-0 at that point.
“It was definitely nice to help my team and to score there,” he noted.
Meanwhile, fellow Bradford High graduate Swanson scored a game-high two goals for PA, earning him team MVP honors. The win was especially satisfying for the striker, as he missed much of the 2019 season with an injury.
“It was a lot of fun to play with my friends one last time, especially since I missed most of the year,” Swanson said. “It was a good day today. I was happy with how it went, and it was a lot of fun.”
He got the scoring started just six minutes into the game to put PA up 1-0, and then scored another at the 15:50 mark to extend his team’s lead to 3-1.
Swanson, the fifth all-time leading scorer (54 goals) and No. 2 leader in assists (49) in BAHS program history, will be continuing his soccer and academic careers at Lock Haven University, a Division II college in the PSAC. He plans to study physical therapy.
Fittingly, both of Swanson’s goals were assisted by Owl forward Ian Grady, who got his teammate loose on a pair of through balls that set up his scores.
Grady described a “great dynamic” the two share, and credited their work together during recent months.
“We’ve been practicing on our own the last couple months during quarantine, so we build that really good dynamic,” he said.
Grady, who will study environmental science at Penn State Behrend, was especially pleased to secure the victory, as he had been a part of Pennsylvania’s prior two losses.
“We were right there and didn’t get it done, but today we got it done and I’m really proud of this team,” he said.
Winger Ryan Miller echoed those sentiments and said part of Pennsylvania’s success was being able to maintain focus in the second half.
“Anytime you’re up, you want to let yourself go a little, but you have to keep the pedal down and force them to make mistakes and keep trying to put goals in the net,” he said.
Miller, who is off to Lock Haven to study biologo next year, was frequently involved in Pennsylvania’s attacks on the offensive end.
Meanwhile, on the defensive end, goalkeeper Evan Schmidt had an easy day at the office, as he recorded just six saves. His defense, anchored by Ayron Hart, allowed just one shot on goal the entire second half, and paved the way for PA to outshoot the Empire State 28-17.
“The defense did a really good job,” Schimdt said of his teammates. “New York tried to attack down the sides a lot, and the defense did a good job of winning the ball and getting it back up to the attackers.”
Schmidt, who will be staying home in Bradford to play for Pitt-Bradford’s soccer program, was thrilled to just be back on the field, especially since his freshman season at UPB is in question due to the pandemic. UPB has already postponed its fall sports to spring, and that’s if those games take place at all.
“It was really nice just to play the game again,” said Schmidt, who owns Bradford High’s records in shutouts (23) and saves (486). “These past few months have been so boring, so it was really nice to get back on the field.”
“This was one game I really look forward to, and when the COVID-19 stuff started, I was nervous we wouldn’t play it,” said Hart, who plans to serve as a first responder as either a fireman or EMT. “I was just glad (game co-founders) Kris (Linderman) and David (Talbot) could get it in, so thank you to them.”
And at the end of the day, the win and opportunity to get together for one final game were what mattered most.
“It just feels really good. It was probably my last game ever playing soccer, so I’m glad I could play it with my brothers,” said midfielder Brennan Grady, who’s bound for Slippery Rock to study physical therapy and was a BAHS team captain and recipient of the Coaches’ Choice Award last season. “I’m really going to miss those guys, so this one last game was what I needed.”
(Joel Whetzel, a Bradford Era sportswriter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)