Photos/Videos: Donna Eckert, Zack Beavers & David Picariello
By: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – A gambler might have gotten rich if they took the odds instead of the evens.
In Friday’s Philadelphia Catholic League quarterfinals, all of the odd seeds – one, three, five, and seven – moved on to Wednesday’s semifinals at Ramp Playground.
No result was more stunning than seven-seed Conwell Egan’s 1-0 triumph at two-seed Archbishop Wood. Then again, maybe it wasn’t stunning. Though CE’s regular-season record of 5-5-1 was ordinary, the fact that two of their losses and their one tie had occurred in double overtime made the Eagles a misleading underdog.
“This win was just what we needed moving forward,” said C-E junior Noah Kiesewetter, who joined forces with fellow center back Logan O’Keefe and frustrated the Vikings. “It showed us that we can go far in the playoffs. Us coming in the playoffs as the seventh seed and beating the second seed gives us confidence going into the semifinals.”
Sophomore Tyler Schmidt supplied the game’s only goal – his 10th of the season – halfway through the second half when he took a free kick pass from senior Dillon Farrell and deposited a shot from six yards out into the bottom left corner.
The set-up mirrored a regular-season connection between the pair.
“Scoring the goal was an amazing feeling,” said Schmidt. “I think Dillon and I both knew how I was gonna make my run and where he needed to place the ball. More importantly, coming together as a team and winning was the most exciting part of the day.”
As did numerous teammates, Schmidt lauded the Eagles’ defense and mentioned the superb goaltending by junior Anthony Conrey.
At one point of the first half, the Vikings were inches away from taking the lead, but Conrey dove toward the top corner just in time to punch the ball over the net out of harm’s way. Conwell-Egan coach Mike Rigney labeled it one of the best saves he has ever seen as a coach.
“When Anthony made that save, it impacted our whole team,” said Kiesewetter. “We got the energy from the big save and carried it for the rest of the game.”
Conrey downplayed his individual contribution.
“I’ve been confident in our team’s ability through the duration of the season,” said Conrey. “We lost some tough games in overtime early on in the season. Being up 1-0, I knew it was up to me and my defense to keep the shutout and secure the win. It’s very exciting. Our team came a very long way from last year. We are all very proud of what we have accomplished this season.”
Despite being underdogs, none of the Eagles were surprised they advanced past the first round.
“I felt that our record was misleading and we really could have had a chance to be much higher in the rankings,” said aforementioned Dillon Farrell. “We go into every game with the mindset to win, and we really wanted this game today. It was a true team effort today.
“I knew we were gonna compete in this game, and we finally showed what this team could do. It is great to see Conwell-Egan compete with all these great teams in the PCL.”
Now comes a new challenge.
“We will continue to work hard and stay focused on our next match,” said Rigney. “Our program believes we can compete with every team. We have another tall task for us next week.”
Conwell-Egan’s next opponent, Father Judge, finished first during the regular season with a 10-1 record. The Crusaders survived a heart-thumping quarterfinal win over eight-seed St. Joseph’s Prep that necessitated penalty kicks.
On October 4, the Crusaders defeated Conwell-Egan, 1-0, in double overtime. The game-winning goal was scored by Father Judge senior Hugh Nungesser, who head-balled sophomore Gavin Dunlop’s free kick into the cage three minutes into the second extra session.
In the penalty kick win over the Prep, Nungesser banged home the clincher, setting off a spirited reaction from his jubilant teammates. Juniors Dane Pizzaro, Kevin Castro, Dylan Fitzgibbon, and Abu Cherif preceded Nungesser and made a victor out of Judge junior goalie Jimmy Shensky.
Nungesser was asked to compare the two game tallies.
“Both goals gave that rush of adrenaline, but I was more happy with this one because the season was on the line,” said Nungesser, who extolled the performance of the Prep’s defense and goalie. “It’s goals like this that make this league and sport very special.”
Three-seed La Salle was pushed to the limit by rugged six-seed Lansdale Catholic, but first-half goals by sophomore Tommy Regan and junior Drew Lottier held up for a 2-1 win and umpteenth straight visit to the league semifinals.
La Salle goalie Ryan Kalup knew the Explorers would have to exhibit diligence to defeat a Lansdale Catholic program that has given La Salle fits over the past several seasons.
“LC is a well-run team with some very talented athletes,” said Kalup. “We knew we needed to come out of the gates fast and have energy on the field and the sidelines. We had a lot of good chances that could have impacted the match's outcome.
“LC and its backline played very well to only keep it at two. After they scored their goal (late in the second half), it was evident they felt as if they could get another. Our backline played very well to resist their efforts, and it helped us secure our spot in the semi-final.”
Lansdale Catholic coach Colin Farrell was pleased with the Crusaders’ performance.
“Facing a team like La Salle, you sort of have to bake into your game plan that things aren’t going to go the way you’d ideally want them to,” said Farrell. “They’re too good a program with too good a coach.
“This game was no different. We were in the right headspace pregame. We had a solid game plan laid out. And for the second time this season, we just couldn’t figure out how to attack them in the first half. Going down 2-0 in the first 40 minutes made life difficult for us because we haven’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut this year. But I couldn’t be prouder of the way we fought back in the second half.”
The Crusaders performed significantly better than they had in their previous meeting with La Salle, a 5-0 loss on September 13.
“We went 0-0 with them through the first 60 minutes, and then the wheels came off when they put their first goal away,” said Farrell. “It broke us mentally and we folded. But this time around, we decided to punch back. We stopped the bleeding and even cut their lead in half. It was just too little, too late unfortunately.
“But like I said, I’m proud of the boys for showing some grit and determination in that second half and not giving up. No shame in losing to a great team when you’re happy with the effort you’ve put in. Just the way life goes sometimes.”
Five-seed Archbishop Ryan took a 6-3-2 record into the postseason, but the Raiders literally came four goals from being 10-1.
So when the Raiders edged four-seed Roman Catholic, 1-0, no one from the Ryan camp was a bit surprised.
“The game last night was truly like a movie,” said Ryan senior goalie Joey Phillips. “I knew before the game even started that we were going to win. We had all focus on the game in the locker room and we had a great warm up.
“We knew coming into the game we need three wins, and we knew that Roman was not going to be an easy opponent. Each and every one of the players on the field last night played extremely well. I also like to give credit to Roman, who has had a great season.”
Sophomore Peyton Barton scored Ryan’s goal off a steal and subsequent shot in the bottom corner of the net and set up a semifinal contest against La Salle, which defeated host Ryan, 2-1, on October 5.
“We scored early so I knew as a goalkeeper that it was going to be a long game for the defense and me,” said Phillips. “We all gave our everything to win and that’s what we just did. After the game in the huddle, our coach, Ryan Haney, said one thing, ‘Two more wins.’ We were given a poster to put up in our locker room that says ‘Believe,’ and that is what Ryan soccer is all about.”
This marks the first time in a decade that Roman did not advance to the semifinals.
“It was a good year in a lot of ways,” said Roman coach Ray DeStephanis. “We learned a great deal about our young guys but yes, very disappointing in the end. Again, you’ve got to come to play smart and play mistake free. We made one, got away from what we are good at, and Ryan capitalized. We never really regained our pregame momentum after that.
“I tip my hat to those guys on an outstanding effort. They deserve to move on, and we all wish them the best of luck going forward.”
(Contact John Knebels at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.)
Tag(s): Home Schools Philadelphia Catholic Soccer Boys Soccer Philadelphia Catholic League Arch. Ryan Boys Soccer Arch. Wood Boys Soccer Conwell-Egan Boys Soccer Father Judge Soccer La Salle Soccer Lansdale Cath. Boys Soccer Roman Catholic Soccer Saint Joseph's Prep Soccer