Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union

Despite the efforts of Canterbury's John Shoppell (R), senior Harley Kruschwitz maintains control of the ball to score Manchester's second goal of the first half of Wednesday’s IHSAA Class 2A boys soccer sectional at Culver Academies.
Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union Despite the efforts of Canterbury's John Shoppell (R), senior Harley Kruschwitz maintains control of the ball to score Manchester's second goal of the first half of Wednesday’s IHSAA Class 2A boys soccer sectional at Culver Academies.
CULVER — Harley Kruschwitz amazed his coach yet again — nothing new there — but if that wasn’t enough, he also shocked himself.

Perhaps most shocking of all, though, Kruschwitz’s hat trick in No. 8-ranked Manchester’s 4-0 victory against Fort Wayne Canterbury during Wednesday’s Class 2A Culver Academies Sectional semifinals marked at long last the first three goals of the superstar senior’s postseason career.

“It was pretty special to do it like that,” Kruschwitz said about the pure guile and skill behind his initial goal, “because that’s my first one (in postseason) so far. I was a little in shock when that ball went in. It was surreal.”

The surreal play came late in the first half, with the Squires already leading 1-0 on a fourth-minute rebound goal by junior Dyson Rosen off a blistering initial shot by senior Caleb Stout.

Kruschwitz settled a ball about 25 yards out, left of center, and calmly shielded a Cavalier defender.

With a nearby Canterbury assistant yelling “keep him off his right, keep him off his right,” Kruschwitz jabbed left and in almost one motion, whipped back right in a semi-circle and lasered the goal in just inside the far post, seemingly without looking up.

“After all these years, it’s just instinct,” Kruschwitz said of whether he was looking, “so I got away with one for once.”

“That goal, it was something, but then again, he amazes me every day,” Manchester coach Dave McKee said. “He’s that good, he really is.”

Kruschwitz, the nation’s No. 3 scorer entering the night, has battled through injuries during his career and was playing just his fourth postseason match. Two of his previous appearances came as a freshman and one last year. He scored in none.

On Wednesday, he punctuated making up for lost time, by tallying again five minutes into the second half for a 3-0 spread and with 1:59 remaining for the final margin.

The Squires (17-0), coming off their second straight unbeaten regular season, earned a spot opposite Culver Academies (12-3-1) in Saturday’s 3 p.m. sectional championship. The host Eagles knocked off No. 3 Fort Wayne Concordia 4-2 in Wednesday’s opening semifinal. Culver “could be” the strongest team Manchester’s played this season, McKee assessed. Meanwhile, Canterbury — which moved up to 2A this season after winning back-to-back 1A state titles the last two years — finished just 3-10-3 on the heels of several key departures after last season, but McKee wasn’t taking a victory for granted, not by a long shot.

“To me, it was nerve-wracking until we scored that fourth goal,” the coach said. “They were the state champs two years running, so it was nice to beat them.”

While the Cavs’ record may have been way down this fall, they did play six teams that were ranked in the final coaches’ poll. The Squires have not faced any.

“Looking at the scores by both teams this season, we did feel we had the upper hand,” Kruschwitz said, “but we still had to do it. We played our hearts out and just tried to use our speed up top. It worked out well.”

McKee said “Canterbury has a good midfield and probably out-possessed us. But we had good defense and we had that offensive punch that they did not have. We’ll need another strong defensive performance and a quick counter attack (Saturday).”

More goals by Kruschwitz wouldn’t hurt, of course.

His latest three pushed his season total to 49, to go with 22 assists, good for 120 points. For his career, he’s at 108 goals, 53 assists and 269 points in just 56 games.

As a team, Manchester recorded its ninth shutout, with Sam Reichenbach, Ridge Fierstos, Justin Self, Austin Forman and Logan Bishop among those contributing in the back, along with junior keeper Dillon Gish.

The Squires finished with a 10-6 advantage in shots on goal and 8-6 edge in corner kicks.

Come Saturday, Manchester — in its 19th season as a program and 16th under McKee — aims for its first-ever sectional title.