by Tom Utescher
Last Friday was opening day for Inter-Ac League competition in boys’ soccer, and since each team’s fortune rests entirely upon its win/loss record at the end of 10 regular-season matches, every outing looms large.
Visiting Springside Chestnut Hill Academy went up 1-0 on sophomore Harrison Kapp’s first-half goal, then junior Jose Contreras gave the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead early in the second period before Penn Charter junior Luke Zieger got the Quakers on the board with a dozen minutes remaining.
The 2-1 victory in the Inter-Ac debut gave SCH an overall record of 9-3-1, and Penn Charter came away with a mark of 3-6.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way,” said Quakers head coach Bob DiBenedetto. “I thought they moved the ball very well, but the two goals we gave up came off of set-pieces, and we can’t do that.”
SCH assistant Bobby Buoncristiano observed, “It’s just about converting your opportunities, and we were lucky enough to put two goals in before they were able to score. In the Inter-Ac you expect to see a lot of hard-fought one-goal games. You have to come into every one ready to do battle, and I thought we played hard today.”
Due to an extracurricular commitment and a lingering injury, Penn Charter had to take the field without two regular starters, freshman Evan Scott and senior Mason Thomas. Coach DiBenedetto observed that Scott, a six-footer, would’ve been a big help when aerial maneuvers were called for.
Charter was still able to get off the first shot of the day on a header, although junior Pete Ciarrocchi’s skull shot tracked outside of the right post. The Blue Devils soon came down the field and had senior Will McCool drive a long direct kick from the close to the top corner on the near side. So it went, a busy day for the goaltenders with a number of scoring chances generated on each side, but with tough defense limiting the number of truly open shots.
Direct kicks by PC’s Matt Sullivan and SCH’s Phil Kelly, both seniors, looked threatening but were not quite on-net. Charter’s senior goalkeeper, T.J. Pagan, snatched a Blue Devil corner kick out of the air, and then charged out to block a shot that had just been struck by a fellow 12th-grader, speedy SCH forward Evan Wilson. A little later, Pagan tipped another Springside Chestnut Hill shot over the crossbar for one of his eight saves on the day.
The Blue Devils eventually put one in the net with 9:45 left to play in the first period. After PC escaped immediate danger on a corner kick, the Blue Devils brought the ball in toward the goal again from the right, getting it to Wilson a little beyond the near post. He was brought up short in a collision with a Quaker defender, but the ball was deflected parallel to the goal line and near the left side of the cage Kapp urged it across the stripe.
“It was a good example of a role-player stepping up and getting it done,” Buoncristiano said of the sophomore’s first varsity goal in league competition. “Harrison has been a swing player, and he’s played a lot with the JV this season. Today when he got his opportunity with the big guys, in the first Inter-Ac game of the season, he made it count.”
On the opening shot of the second half, SCH senior Anthony Liddy was a bit off to the right, then PC came right back down to apply pressure at the other end. A loose ball bounced dangerously near the right post of the Devils’ goal, but McCool cleared it away from the cage. The ball went over the endline for a corner, but the Quakers couldn’t manage a shot on the restart.
Before long the flow of play changed direction once more, and the goal that became the gamewinner for SCH went in with a little over seven-and-a-half minutes gone in the second half. Liddy was tripped while bringing the ball up the right wing, and the visitors sent the resulting free kick into the near side of the box. On a high bounce, Contreras connected with his cranium, and the ball went in top-shelf on the left to make it 2-0.
After some fruitless Penn Charter attempts over the next 20 minutes, the Quakers got on the board with 12 minutes remaining. Coming in from the left side initially, Charter kept the ball bouncing back and forth in the box and eventually Zieger drove it home from beyond the right post.
The Blue Devils and sophomore keeper Sam McDowell (nine saves) would not let in another. McDowell dove sideways to block one shot with his body, then with nine minutes left he came out to deflect a shot just after it left the foot of Harrison Williams, a Quakers sophomore. The hosts had a corner kick from the left with six minutes left, but didn’t produce a shot, and at the far end SCH’s Wilson missed a header off of a serve inside.
The Devils then fended off the last few rushes by the home team, with senior Alec Greenhalgh lending a hand to McDowell by clearing out a loose ball from in front of the right post. At the very end the visitors were attacking, earning two corner kicks in the last 70 seconds.
Charter’s DiBenedetto observed, “We had some excellent opportunities in the second half and we couldn’t put the ball away, and part of that was their keeper making some great saves.”
“Sam played fantastic,” agreed Buoncristiano. “He was already an all Inter-Ac goalie last season, and he certainly looked like it today.”
UPDATE – On Saturday, Springside Chestnut Hill reached double digits in the win column (10-3-1) with a victory on the road over a traditionally strong team in Delaware, St. Mark’s. As on the previous day, the final score was 2-1, and once again Kapp put the first point on the board for a 1-0 halftime edge. St. Mark’s tied it in the second stanza, but with two minutes left SCH’s Wilson got the ball to sophomore Blake Greenhalgh (Alec’s brother), who put it away for the win.