SCH sophomore José Contreras shields the ball from an Archbishop Ryan opponent during last Saturday’s match. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

It was a Saturday soccer showcase on the new artificial turf at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s Landreth Field, and seniors Tom Higgins and Tim Ogle made the most of it.

After the Blue Devils and visiting Archbishop Ryan High School fought to a 0-0 standoff in the first half, Higgins scored all three goals in SCH’s 3-0 victory, two of them the direct result of Ogle’s prodigious sideline throw-ins. Freshman goalie Sam McDowell made seven saves for the shutout as his team’s record rose to 4-4-1, all in non-league action.

“I never had a multiple-goal game before in my high school career,” revealed Higgins, a Lafayette Hill resident who attended St. Philip Neri School. “I’m not a goal-scorer, but I get myself up for every corner and throw-in into the box just in case I get a chance. Today it paid off.”

The six-foot senior, who also plays basketball and runs track at SCH, has the height to be useful on aerial plays inside the box, and the Devils have been looking to cash in on Ogle’s ability to send throw-ins right into the mouth of the goal.

Saturday’s opponent, Archbishop Ryan, was coming to the end of a busy week. The Raiders had just recorded Philadelphia Catholic League victories over Cardinal O’Hara, La Salle, and Neumann Goretti, and they arrived at Landreth Field with an overall record of 7-2.

A little over a week earlier, Springside Chestnut Hill was contemplating an overall mark of 1-4 following a 2-0 road loss to South Jersey power Pennington School. In almost every game the Devils had numerous scoring opportunities, but rarely found the net.

After their Jersey jaunt, their conversion rate began to rise. They tied traditionally-strong Strath Haven High School and defeated Shipley (4-0) and the Hun School (3-0). Several of their goals came from cashing in on restarts, something the squad had been striving for.

However, the offense didn’t click in the first half against Ryan. There were the usual near misses; an outside blast by junior Phillip Kelly that narrowly avoided the upper right corner of the Raiders’ goal, a header wide to the left by senior Andrew Marcantonio-Fields, and a bicycle kick by Alec Greenhalgh and a straightforward shot by fellow junior Evan Wilson that were saved by the visiting keeper.

After a shot wide left in the opening minutes, Ryan’s offense tailed off for a time. The Raiders revived in the middle of the first half to apply some pressure on the Devils’ McDowell, but no goals were forthcoming. The visitors were unable to get off a shot on a corner kick with three minutes to go, and the period ended with the count still at 0-0.

Despite some chances for both ballclubs, the drought continued for another 20 minutes when play resumed.

With under 21 minutes to go, an SCH corner kick from the right proved fruitless, but the hosts kept the ball in Ryan’s half of the field and eventually passed it across the middle of the 18 yard line into a group of players. It bounced back out a few yards, and Higgins stepped up to the ball and blasted a long shot into the net.

“I’ve been waiting for that kind of chance,” he remarked. “The ball just spilled out to me nicely – it sort of bobbled off Phil Kelly’s heel.”

The eventual gamewinning goal was on the board with 19:13 left to play.

With 14 minutes to go, Ryan got numbers forward for a rush towards the SCH 18, but couldn’t get off a shot. The Devils came back down to earn a corner kick on the left, and the ball went out over the sideline off of the Raiders. After a throw-in by Ogle, the ball again went out-of-bounds off of the visitors.

Ogle geared up for another throw from the left boundary, this time hurling the ball across to the far post, where Higgins smartly headed it into the cage with 11:18 to go in the game.

The Devils kept up the attack, and just over two minutes later they had another in-bounds play on the left. Now, Ogle made a truncated toss to the near post, but this ball also found Higgins for the shot that completed his hat trick. McDowell maintained the shutout and SCH wrapped up a very successful week.

With their league opener against Haverford School slated for this Friday (away, at 3:45 PM), Springside Chestnut Hill had been looking to ramp up its performance to enter the Inter-Ac fray.

“As a defensive center mid, I’ve been trying to anticipate and see things developing early,” Higgins said. “We’ve been looking to increase our speed of play overall, and on offense we worked on finishing more of our chances. In the Inter-Ac, you’re not going to get as many scoring opportunities, so we knew we needed to have more grit, more intensity in the box.”

Higgins’ father and grandfather are also named Thomas, but one thing he doesn’t share with his forebears is an Irish accent. The two older Tom’s, both in attendance last Saturday, hail from County Galway. The SCH senior plans to continue his soccer career in college, and after Saturday’s game he was heading off to visit Maryland’s Stevenson University. Among the other schools on his short list is Division I Duquesne.

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