by Tom Utescher
After falling to Haverford School by a 3-0 score in their first meeting this season, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy beat the Fords 1-0 in regulation play in their regular-season rematch at Haverford last month.
In the semifinal round of the Pa. Independent Schools soccer championships last week, the Blue Devils appeared to be on the verge of recreating the low-scoring triumph in their previous match against 2013 Inter-Ac League champions. Senior Anthony Liddy scored late in the first half, and SCH still held a 1-0 lead with just seven minutes remaining in the game.
In an offensive flurry near the end of regulation play, Haverford tied the match, the Blue Devils immediately recaptured the lead, and then the Fords evened the score again to force overtime.
Penalty kicks served host Haverford well; first they scored from the penalty mark to tie the score at 2-2 near the end of regulation, then after 10 scoreless minutes of overtime, they defeated the Devils in a PK shootout, advancing to the Indy Schools final with a victory official scored as 3-2.
In a single-round, five-man-a-side shootout, the first three Haverford players scored, and after the fourth man fired for each team, the Fords had a 3-2 edge. SCH, going first in the sequence, missed its fifth shot, and no longer could match the three point complied by its rival.
Haverford’s loss to SCH late in the regular season proved to be its only defeat in the Inter-Ac campaign, and the Fords clinched the title outright with a 9-1 record. They were also seeded first for the independent schools tournament, receiving a bye in the first round, then winning a quarterfinal match last Tuesday against number seven Germantown Academy, 5-0. Sophomore Connor Gregory notched a hat trick in that contest for the Fords, who took an overall record of 16-4 into Thursday’s meeting with Springside Chestnut Hill.
SCH started out in the tournament by taking on the only team in the field from outside of the Philadelphia area. After the third-seeded Devils dispatched number 14 Kiski School (from Pittsburgh), they employed goals from Liddy and fellow seniors Cole Brown and Evan Wilson to craft a 3-0 quarterfinal win over number seven Episcopal Academy. Unfortunately, Wilson suffered a concussion in the latter game, and could not play in the semifinals on Thursday.
For the Devils, the victory over Episcopal avenged an 0-4 loss to the Churchmen at the end of the Inter-Ac League season. In addition to splitting in its home/away series with EA and Haverford, SCH also went 1-1 against Germantown Academy this fall. With a final league mark of 7-3, the Devils secured the runner-up spot ahead of GA’s Patriots, who wound up at 6-3-1. In the lower tier of the league were Episcopal (3-6-1), Malvern Prep (2-6-2), and Penn Charter (0-8-2).
In Thursday’s semifinal Haverford had the ball in the box first, thanks to sophomore Jimmy Tricolli’s long throw-in to the goalmouth. That ball was cleared out by SCH’s Brown, who soon was attacking at the other end. The result was a corner kick from the right, but no shot on goal was forthcoming for the Blue Devils.
A bit later, the Fords got the ball to the dangerous Gregory in the middle of the SCH box as two defenders closed in. Gregory went down, but the whistle Haverford was looking for never came. The refs allowed a certain degree of physical contact through much of the contest, although they had to clamp down late in the day when things got a little out of hand.
Near the middle of the first half an SCH serve inside connected with the cranium of senior Phil Kelly in front of the cage, but on his high header the ball was plucked out of the air by Haverford goalie Quinn Letter, a junior. Haverford missed a chance at the other end when senior Connor Keating passed the ball right across the front of the Blue Devils’ net. No one was in place to punch the ball in, and seconds later an angled shot by Gregory was off-the-mark.
So it went, with both teams threatening, but with Letter and SCH sophomore Sam McDowell managing to keep the cages sealed with the help of the defenders in front of them. Finally, one of the zeroes was wiped off the scoreboard with 1:48 remaining in the first half.
Making a run into the right side of the box, the Blue Devils’ Liddy received a well-directed through pass from junior Jose Contreras farther out on the same flank, and he was able to convert. Springside Chestnut Hill had the first lead, but more than a full period remained in the game.
“When we won against them in the regular season [1-0], the goal came a little later, about six or seven minutes into the second half,” said SCH head coach Joe DiSalvo. “We didn’t want to rest too much on the one goal lead, and we still tried to attack a little bit. For the most part, we defended them really well; they didn’t get as many scoring opportunities as in the other game here.”
Haverford earned the first corner kick of the second half about three minutes in, and the serve into the box was punched away by the Devils’ McDowell. The visitors went up the field and sent the ball across the 18 on the ground, but Letter charged out from the cage to reach it just before SCH’s Contreras.
Looking to level the score, the Fords spent more time on the attack than Springside Chestnut Hill. A promising shot from the right side bounced back off one of Haverford’s own players near the goal, and on a threatening serve the ball was headed away by Blue Devils senior Alec Greenhalgh. When Haverford got off a corner kick from the right with 15 minutes on the clock, McDowell went up to pull in the ball.
As regulation time dwindled, Greenhalgh’s brother Blake, a sophomore, hit a shot wide to the right of the Haverford cage, and Liddy drove a long ball up over the crossbar.
Haverford took the ball inside near the left post, but it was blocked and rolled back out again on the same side. With the ball still in the box, Fords sophomore Jerry Karalis closed in to fire it into the net.
“We stopped the first shot, and it looked like maybe we were going to get a clear because we had two guys on the goal line,” DiSalvo said. “It was just a good shot that split our two guys.”
The Fords had tied the contest with 6:48 to play in regulation, but the visitors went ahead again just over a minute later. The Devils attacked quickly with numbers in the box, and the elder Greenhalgh parked the ball in the Fords’ garage for a 2-1 SCH advantage.
On a subsequent attack by Haverford, a player went down in the penalty area, and a penalty kick was called with four-and-a-half minutes on the ticker.
“For the type of game that it was, and the way the ref called most of the game, I thought it was unfortunate to get a PK call after our second goal,” Coach DiSalvo said.
The Haverford continent had argued for similar calls to be made earlier in the day, and now that they got the whistle they wanted, the Fords didn’t waste the opportunity. Sander Yu, a senior who’s headed for Drexel University, placed the ball in the upper right corner to tie the match at 2-2.
Late in regulation, a relatively soft SCH shot from the left was scooped up by Letter, and play continued into overtime and through two five- minute OT sessions with the tie score still in place. Penalty kicks were now stipulated by the tournament rules, and with the sun not far from setting, there really weren’t any other options anyway.
Although this tiebreaking method isn’t used in Inter-Ac League play, DiSalvo noted, “We still have the guys practice penalty kicks a lot. PK’s stink as a way of deciding a game, but unfortunately you only have so much daylight.”
Five shooters from each team prepared to try and break the stalemate, with SCH going first in the sequence. Haverford’s Letter turned aside the first two Blue Devil attempts, while Yu and sophomore Shane Bradley each scored for the Fords. Brown became the first man for SCH to find the net, and his shot was followed by a successful strike by Haverford tenth-grader Connor Bradley, giving the Fords a 3-1 edge with three shots taken for each team.
Springside Chestnut Hill junior Christian Williams then buried the ball about chest high on the left side, but the fourth Ford in the order, the skillful Gregory, could now end the affair if he found the net. He aimed toward the upper left corner, but left the ball a little too far inside the post, and the Blue Devils’ McDowell was able to spring sideways and slap the shot away.
SCH still needed its fifth man to score in order to keep going, but his ball struck the front of the right post, and the Fords began to celebrate.
“With as good as we’ve been at times this season, it was a rough way to end it,” DiSalvo summed up. “I feel bad for the seniors, but like they say, it is what it is.”
UPDATE: Two days after this game, it was Haverford who wound up on the short end of a PK shootout, falling to second-seeded Hill School in the Independent Schools championship match.