Mount St. Joseph players like Isabella Balcer (left) pressured Nazareth goalie Alexis Gallagher (on ground) through much of last Thursday’s league swansong. Passing by is Nazareth’s Hannah Florentino (#20). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Mount St. Joseph players like Isabella Balcer (left) pressured Nazareth goalie Alexis Gallagher (on ground) through much of last Thursday’s league swansong. Passing by is Nazareth’s Hannah Florentino (#20). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Avenging one of its four losses to Catholic Academies opponents this fall, host Mount St. Joseph Academy wrapped up the AACA season last Thursday by beating the Nazareth Academy Pandas, 3-0. The Magic had lost to the Nazareth (3-13-1 overall) by a 2-1 tally when the teams had met in Northeast Philly back on the first of the month.

The Magic created a number of scoring chances in the first half of the rematch, but didn’t get on the board until five minutes into the second stanza. Juniors Paige Comtois and Maddie Finnegan and sophomore Grace DiGiovanni provided the points for the Mounties, who outshot their guests 14-4 (7-2 in each period). On the defensive end, four saves were made by Charlotte Sands, who is team co-captain along with fellow senior M.K. Maloney.

If not for a huge upset that had occurred in the league, Thursday’s win would’ve tied the Mount for second place in the league with Gwynedd Mercy Academy. Last fall the GMA Monarchs were the league runner-up, landing in between longtime champ Villa Joseph Marie and the third-place Magic.

The Mount lost twice to Villa Joe this season and split in its home/away series with Gwynedd. The Mount’s loss to Nazareth in their first meeting was damaging, but it appeared that blemish would be cleared away by a Gwynedd loss to another one of the lower-ranked teams in the league, St. Basil.

However, in its postponed second match with Villa Joe, Gwynedd avenged an early-season loss by beating the defending state champs in a 3-2 overtime game on October 17. Villa Joe won the AACA with an 11-1 record, Gwynedd was runner-up at 9-3, and the Mount emerged third with a mark of 8-4 (11-5 overall).

Before last Thursday’s game there was a Yanni family reunion on the sidelines. Mara Yanni, who attended the Mount, is now assistant coach at her alma mater, and her older brother Jesse, a St. Joe’s Prep alum, is on the coaching staff at Nazareth. Both are graduates of Norwood Fontbonne Academy.

As part of its Senior Day celebration the Mount started a lot of 12th- graders in the game, and one of them, Meredith Bohner, got off the Magic’s first shot of the day less than two minutes in. The hosts continued to attack, and with nine minutes gone Comtois had a shot tipped over the Pandas’ cage by sophomore keeper Alexis Gallagher (eight saves). Mount St. Joe booted the resulting corner kick all the way through the box.

The visitors regrouped and generated some offense in the middle of the period, forcing a fairly conventional save and then a dramatic diving stop at the right post to be made by MSJ’s Sands. Those would be the only two bona fide shots of the half for Nazareth, though, and the Mounties soon resumed the offensive.

Shots by Comtois, DiGiovanni, senior Jenny Murphy and junior Ashley Pyne were either saved by Gallagher or missed the cage, and the Mount’s advantage in time of possession was not reflected on the scoreboard at halftime, when it was still 0-0.

In their huddle, the Magic pledged themselves to scoring a goal in the first five minutes of the second half. They did so, and then scored again five minutes after that. A change in formation that pushed more players forward helped achieve that objective.

In the first two minutes Maloney and DiGiovanni unleashed shots, and the Magic would eventually get on the board thanks to Comtois, who went into the box heading toward the left post and hit a shot that sort of spun in off of the keeper into the near side of the goal. Next, DiGiovanni got the ball over to Finnegan in the left side of the penalty zone. She swung her leg across her body to putt the ball into the net, providing the Mounties with their insurance goal.

Later in the period, senior Isabella Balcer threatened the Pandas’ cage a number of times, but the ball just didn’t want to go in. Still, she would play a role in the Magic’s final marker.

With just over seven minutes left, senior Gabby Good got off a corner kick from the left side. The Mounties really put their heads together to execute the rest of this play. The ball contacted the craniums of Balcer and senior classmate Meg Morrisey before DiGiovanni butted it into the net.

Nazareth made a serious bid to break the shutout around the five-minute mark, but an impressive stop by Sands allowed her to put the finishing touches on the whitewash.