Panuccio lifts Wildcats

Sunday, October 28, 2007

BY MICHAEL BULLOCK

For The Patriot-News

As he watched a throw-in sail over his head, Gaetano Panuccio did what his instincts told him to do: Get in position for a rebound or a fortuitous bounce.

Since the ball hopped his way, we’ll let him describe what happened next.

“I just stuck my right foot out and tried to smack it in there,” Panuccio said.

“Luckily, it went in.”

Panuccio’s goal with 11:26 gone in overtime, his third of a wonderful game, lifted Mechanicsburg to a 3-2 victory over Cumberland Valley in the quarterfinal round of the District 3-AAA boys’ soccer tournament Saturday night at breezy Landis Field.

Up next for Panuccio & Co. is a date with second-seeded Red Land in the back end of a twinbill Wednesday night at Hersheypark Stadium.

Niko Corado and Jeff Gring collected second-half scores — the latter with 17 minutes gone in the second half — as CV (11-10-2) valiantly rallied from a 2-0 deficit for the second consecutive 3-AAA outing. Unlike Thursday at Warwick, this time the Eagles fell short.

“To get back to this game, with everything we went through this year, I’m just very, very proud of our seniors,” CV coach Matt Billman said.

“This is arguably the most determined, resilient group we’ve ever had. … They left a great legacy. A lot of teams would have folded when we were 4-7-1.”

A lot of teams would have folded down 2-0, but after surrendering Panuccio’s two first-half scores Billman’s hustling Eagles scrapped back to pull even.

Using some nifty dance-step moves, Corado rolled in CV’s first score before Gring followed with his tying penalty kick.

Once Mechanicsburg’s Sam Burkholder (6 saves) covered Colby Zeger’s rip with just over 18 minutes left in the second half, a well-paced game with plenty of end-to-end action and timely defensive plays began to swing back to the Wildcats (16-5-2).

Panuccio unleashed four terrific chances before regulation ended, but three sailed high or wide. The other was denied by keeper Vish Arya (6 saves).

Guy was just … we chased him a lot of the evening,” Billman said.

“[Panuccio's] been fantastic [the last two games],” said Mechanicsburg coach Tony Lougee. “He played with a lot of determination and a lot of confidence.

“I can’t say enough about him.”

Or, for that matter, his whole team.

Though Greg Bretz could have won it early in extra time, his effort whistled wide of the left post.

Panuccio might have won it a short time later, but his bicycle kick split the football uprights.

Then, when Will Laubach’s throw from the right boundary sailed into the heart of the penalty area, a hustling Arya tried to punch the ball away. Instead, it went right to Panuccio.

Soon, it was resting in the net.

“This is pride,” Panuccio said. “It’s not only to make it to states or anything, it’s for pride.”

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