WELLSBURG - Playing a tough early season schedule has its benefits, and its downfalls.
Wheeling Park learned the latter in the first five games of the boys' soccer season as the Patriots started 0-3-2. However, lessons learned in those outings them reaping the benefits.
Wednesday night on the Brooke Memorial Stadium turf, Wheeling Park (6-5-3) won its sixth game and, in doing so, advanced to the semifinals of the OVAC Cup with a dominating 4-0 victory against St. Clairsville.
The No. 6-seed Patriots will meet second-seeded University at 3 on Saturday on the Wheeling Island Stadium rug. The Hawks rolled past No. 7 Parkersburg South, 7-1, in Wednesday's opener.
''We play a very challenging schedule early on and we lost a lot of talent from last year,'' Wheeling Park coach mario Julian said. ''But we've picked up the pace in our last few games.''
Patriots goalkeeper Ryan Seidewitz was rarely tested, especially in the first half when the designated visitors took a 2-0 lead and never looked back. The junior was only called upon to make one save in the first 40 minutes.
''Defensively, we've played pretty well. That's our eighth shutout,'' Julian said.
The game started in a driving rain storm, but that didn't stop Park. Junior Nate Mauck got the Patriots on the board when he sent a laser zipping past St. Clairsville goalkeeper Izaac Wiley and into the net from the top of the box just 5:54 into the quarterfinal contest.
Nearly 12 minutes later, Mauck was at it again as the Red Devils were whistled for an infraction in the box which drew a penalty kick. Mauck sent the ball to the exact same spot for a 2-0 lead.
St. Clairsville's only legitimate threat in the first half came moments later when Brock Ferrell's left-footed drive sailed just wide of the cage.
The Patriots nearly scored right before the half when Eric Bonar's point-blank shot from 20 yards was a tad over the crossbar.
Jerry Lucas pounded home a rebound at the 6:27 mark of the second half. The Patriots sent a corner kick into the box, and after the ball was pin-balled around, Wiley swatted away a shot, but Lucas was all alone by the right post to tickle the twine.
Zach Witzberger completed the scoring when his left-footed shot was just out of the reach of a leaping Wiley.
''They were aggressive,'' St. Clairsville (7-3) coach Gary Watt said of the Patriots. ''They were winning the 50/50s. We were just a step behind. They are a good team. You can't take anything away from them.''
Seidewitz finished with six saves, many of them of the routine variety. Meanwhile, Wheeling Park got off 31 shots, with Wiley recording 14 saves, including 11 in the second half.