By: John Knebels
Photos/Videos: Kathy Leister & Angelise Stuhl
TREVOSE, PA – As is typical in Catholic League boys’ soccer, immense anticipation continually increased as the regular season approached the finish line. With parity serving as the enticer, theories as to which two finalists would reach the championship were creative and plentiful.
In a semifinal doubleheader last night at the Trifecta Sporting Club, questions turned into answers. Top-seed La Salle survived a dogged effort by seven-seed Archbishop Ryan, 4-3. Three-seed Roman Catholic followed with a 1-0 defensive clinic to topple frustrated Archbishop Wood.
The final is set for 4:00 October 26 at James Ramp Memorial Recreation Center. The Explorers and Cahillites will meet for the crown. It’s the third time in four years these teams have faced each other in the final, with La Salle winning in 2016 and 2017. It’s Roman Catholic’s sixth consecutive trip to the Catholic League’s marquee event.
La Salle, which finished 11-1 and then overwhelmed Conwell-Egan, 8-1, in the quarterfinals, took a quick 2-0 lead on goals by juniors Brandon Curran and Lucho Narcisi. Undaunted, the Raiders tied the game on goals by juniorsTeddy Westervelt and Sidiki Fofana. The Explorers forged a 3-2 lead on a tally by sophomore Sean Jennings in the last minute of the first half.
Junior Ben Herron’s goal in the second half upped the Explorers’ lead to 4-2. But Ryan, which has played its best ball late in the season as indicated by a 4-1-1 finish and a stunning 1-0 victory over two-seed Father Judge in the quarterfinal, responded on a goal by senior George Karusky to trim its deficit to 4-3.
“It’s hard to relax with so much on the line,” said Herron. “The two-goal lead definitely gave us some breathing room, but Ryan came right back and scored a third to put the pressure right back on us.”
The Raiders could not find the equalizer, and La Salle survived. For a team that had surrendered only seven goals during the regular season, participating in such a high-scoring contest provided an anomaly.
Now to Roman Catholic.
Although the concept is probably a bit overrated, Roman’s returning players from last year had a great chance to avenge the penalty kick loss to Archbishop Wood in last fall’s Catholic League championship.
With 29 minutes remaining in the second half, senior Kieran Donnelly’s re-direct header off a perfect corner kick by senior Sebastian Gonzalez put Roman Catholic in the proverbial driver’s seat. Roman’s defense refused to bend. Other than a diving save by senior goalie Kevin Tobin, the Cahillites held the Vikings at bay for their ninth shutout in 14 Catholic League games.
“A game like that keeps me on my toes every second of the game,” said Tobin, “knowing that anything can happen at any moment.”
Roman Catholic coach Ray DeStephanis was asked if reaching the finals in a season that is particularly loaded with potential champions is more satisfying than usual.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Not that it’s been an easy pass more than any other year, but the ‘any team, any night’ persona of the league this year definitely makes it a little more rewarding.
“There were many times, and I’m sure not just us, when we seriously needed to revisit what we were doing, how we were doing it, and who we needed to do it against. Truly an interesting and challenging season.”
La Salle coach Tom McCaffery concurred.
“Anytime we get the chance to play in the final is satisfying,” he said. “I think the fact that we got back here this year with so many quality teams in a testament to the tremendous student athletes I am fortunate to work with.”
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)