On a dreary, wet afternoon, this slippery soccer ball eluded both SCH senior Blake Greenhalgh (left) and Penn Charter sophomore Connor Sullivan. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

On a dreary, wet afternoon, this slippery soccer ball eluded both SCH senior Blake Greenhalgh (left) and Penn Charter sophomore Connor Sullivan. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

They left it until very late in the year, but last Tuesday Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s soccer players picked up their first league win of the season in their next-to-last Inter-Ac League contest. In their final home field appearance, the local booters opened with two quick goals and led the rest of the way to log a 3-2 win over the visiting Quakers of Penn Charter.

Almost all of the scoring occurred during a seven-minute span near the end of the first quarter of play. SCH struck twice, Charter got one goal back, and then the hosts scored their third soon after that to lead 3-1 at the break. PC made it close at the end with a marker that came with 11 minutes remaining.

With each team having its final league bout coming up on Saturday, Tuesday’s outcome gave the winners an Inter-Ac record of 1-5-3. The Quakers, who played better in the first half of the league campaign than they did in the second, were 3-4-2.

Light rain persisted through much of the affair at Springside Chestnut Hill and made for a soggy Senior Day for SCH, but because of scheduling difficulties caused by the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament, the game could not be moved. Both SCH and Penn Charter were scheduled to open the PAIS tournament two days later, and wanted to fit in a day of practice.

The SCH community bid farewell to 2015 co-captains Blake Greenhalgh and Sam McDowell and to fellow seniors Tim Booth, Aidan Fitzpatrick, Billy Harris, Harrison Kapp, and Henry Kelly. It would also be the final game for the team’s head coach for seven seasons, Joe DiSalvo. A 1996 graduate of the old Chestnut Hill Academy who went on to play at North Carolina, DiSalvo now lives and works in New Jersey, and found himself spending a great deal of his day on the road battling heavy traffic.

“I drive a lot for work, and then I would be coming over to practice or games, and then going right back to coach some more, because my kids are now playing club soccer,” he explained. “I really thought I would be here longer, but with my career and my family, something had to give, and it was coaching high school.”

There was parity between the Inter-Ac teams this fall, and with one game still to go, Haverford School was able to lock up the league championship with just six wins.

DiSalvo commented, “I could see pretty quickly how tight the league was going to be, and I thought we might have a puncher’s chance if we got some good results early, but it didn’t happen. We had a lot of young guys see a lot of minutes, and they had to learn how tough it is to play in the Inter-Ac. That came a little late to help us this year, but they did start to learn it, and that’s important.”

Penn Charter had come through the first round of Inter-Ac games with a respectable mark of 3-1-1, but then things went downhill a bit.

“Recently, we’ve been tripping over ourselves in some important games,” noted Quakers skipper Bob DiBenedetto. “We did some things to try and help our offense, but it ended up making us more exposed on defense. We’re not a very deep team, so it’s tough to cover all the bases.”

On Tuesday, PC spent much of the first 10 minutes in its offensive half, but after that the hosts struck quickly. They broke the ice with 27:33 to go in the first period, on a play that started with Greenhalgh booting the ball across the box from the right flank. From beyond the far post, Kelly sent the ball back inside and junior Andy Stackhouse stuffed it in.

Just 51 seconds later Kelly set up Stackhouse once again; this time the senior broke up the middle with the ball and sent it through to the 11th-grader.

“We had some defensive breakdowns,” assessed DiBendetto. “We let in a bad goal on that first one; we had two different guys who were each caught moving the wrong way. The second goal was just a nice play by them.”

After going down 2-0, Charter responded three minutes later. Senior Harrison Williams crossed the ball inside from along the right endline, and classmate Sean McKee closed in from the left to drive the ball home. In his primary sport, lacrosse, McKee is more used to turning aside shots than taking them; the standout goalie will continue his lax career at Fairfield University.

The visitors were now back within a point of the leaders, but not for long. With 20:50 still to go in the first half, Greenhalgh gave the Chestnut Hill lads their eventual game-winner, as playmaker Kelly rang up his third assist of the afternoon.

For the remainder of the first period and well into the second, each squad had offensive opportunities, but SCH’s McDowell and Quakers junior Jay Jennings held fast in goal. Finally, PC senior Drew Shaifer fired one for the visitors to make it 3-2 with 11:20 on the clock, and that would become the final score.

Charter’s DiBenedetto found much to be frustrated about in the 2015 campaign as a whole, but after this one he reflected, “If I have to lose to somebody, I don’t mind losing to Joey in his last home game at Chestnut Hill.”

DiBenedetto was head coach at the former Chestnut Hill Academy when the team won back-to-back league titles in 1999 and 2000.

The departing DiSalvo has sent more than a dozen of his athletes on to play college soccer, and now he feels that he’s leaving the SCH program on sound footing.

“We have some solid juniors, and then we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores who saw substantial minutes this year,” he pointed out. “You could see a huge difference in the young guys with the way they improved over the course of the season. We had another four good freshmen who played JV and they’ll be coming up, and there were some talented eighth-graders on the middle school team.”

As mentioned earlier, DiSalvo had imagined that he would spend more than seven years at SCH, but he’s grateful for the time he was able to put in coaching at his alma mater.

“It was something that I always wanted to do, and I’m glad I got to do it while I was relatively young,” he remarked.

He spoke with admiration of his own mentor at Chestnut Hill, Hall of Fame coach Jim Talbot.

“He means a lot to me and the school will always mean a lot to me,” he said. “It changed my life and gave me a lot of opportunities I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. I just wanted to help provide those same opportunities for the young guys that are here now.”

UPDATE: In first-round PAIS tournament games on Thursday, fourth-seeded Penn Charter defeated Westtown School (13th), 4-1, Germantown Friends, the 10th seed, upset number seven Episcopal on penalty kicks (2-2 in regulation), and number nine SCH lost 4-1 to the eighth seed, Friends Central. In the last Inter-Ac League games on Saturday, SCH ended its season at 5-10-4 overall with a 2-1 road win over Malvern Prep, which had led the league halfway through the schedule with a 4-1 record.

Malvern fell to third in the final rankings with a 5-5 mark, while Springside Chestnut Hill’s record of 2-5-3 locked the Blue Devils in at fifth place in between number four Penn Charter (4-4-2) and Germantown Academy (2-7-1). PC topped GA on Saturday, 1-0, while in a battle between the top two teams, Haverford (7-1-2) retained the league title with a 2-0 victory over Episcopal (5-3-2).