Phil Burckhardt (center), a Blue Devils junior, goes up for a head ball between two Ryan Raiders. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Under the lights at Archbishop Ryan High School last Saturday night, the lads of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy notched their fourth straight shutout, taking away a 2-0 victory to raise their record to 8-1-1 (all non-league). Junior Luke Greenberg helped set up a first-half goal by classmate Phil Burckhardt and then he scored himself with an assist from freshman Connor Koschineg, reinforcing the Blue Devils’ lead with under two minutes remaining in the game.

Although sophomore offensive standout Dane Harmaty had to sit out last week with an injury, his teammates were able to extend a string of shutout victories that began just after the Devils suffered their lone loss. That came in a 2-3 bout with Hill School, the defending Pennsylvania Independent Schools champion.

Last Tuesday, SCH started its week with a 2-0 victory over visiting Princeton Day School, getting goals from Burckhardt and yet another member of the strong junior class, Peter Kapp.

Second-year SCH head coach Brian Zalasky has been pleased with the performance of his entire defensive unit. Senior Michael Buck, junior Jack Myers and sophomore Vince Sciarrotta all played together in the back last year, and senior Matt Greenberg has contributed as both a defender and as a defensively-oriented midfielder.

Zalasky says that behind these four, junior goalie Owen Elliott has a lot of influence over the Blue Devils’ mental attitude. He sets the level of intensity and focus for the others, and after an “off” day several weeks ago, Zalasky related, “I told him, the team looks to you. You can’t just be a thermometer; you’ve got to be a thermostat.”

Regarding defense in general, Zalasky likes to remind all his players, “Our forward all the way up top is our first defender.”

After the Tuesday victory over PDS, the next engagement on the Blue Devils’ calendar would take them to Northeast Philly.

The field at Archbishop Ryan has lights, but no bleachers, so there was a picnic-like atmosphere as a large number of fans situated themselves on a grassy bank that slopes up gently from the low fence around the playing pitch.

The home team entered the contest with a 5-4 record against a tough schedule, and the program has a long and distinguished history in the Philadelphia Catholic League. In the present, the Raiders were eager to test their mettle against SCH. Earlier, the Devils had defeated Roman Catholic High School, which currently is unbeaten within the PCL.

Both teams made early runs, and on the first two scoring chances off of restarts, a long direct kick by Ryan sent the ball into the arms of SCH keeper Elliot, while at the far end the Raiders cleared out the ball following a Blue Devil corner kick from the right side.

SCH junior Luke Greenberg (left) fends off an Archbishop Ryan rival. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

About 15 minutes in, the home team appeared to gain the early advantage, firing into the net to cap off a nice two-on-one sortie across the 18. The shooter was ruled offsides, though, and both zeroes stayed up on the scoreboard.

Over the next few minutes, SCH earned a corner but didn’t get off a shot, and then a stout shot by Devils senior Luke Vogelman traveled wide to the left.

Almost midway through the first half, Greenberg carried the ball up the field and into the box on the right. As he approached the endline, he was set upon by Ryan defenders, but he was able to keep the ball from being cleared away. He lifted it across the face of the goal, and Burckhardt closed in from outside the left post to head the ball in.

On a potentially dangerous direct kick by the Raiders a dozen minutes before halftime, SCH’s Buck blocked the ball. Another 12th-grader, Tague Harmaty (Dane’s brother) blasted a high free kick from deep in the defensive end up to the Ryan 18, but after the ball took a high bounce, Ryan’s keeper got to it first when it descended.

Just before the break, the Raiders penetrated along the left endline of SCH, but Elliott came over to dive on the ball just outside of the post. The count was still 1-0 at halftime.

Springside Chestnut Hill spent a bit more time on the attack than the host team for much of the second half, but the Raiders were active enough to remind Blue Devil fans that their team still had only a one-goal lead.

Over the first 20 minutes, Ryan’s goalie made a dramatic save on a ball fired by Vogelman, and the Devils’ Elliott deflected an outside shot by the Raiders over the crossbar at the last second. A little later, a shot stemming from an SCH two-on-one dash missed the cage.

As the contest entered the final 10 minutes, the Raiders stepped up their effort to secure the tying goal, assaulting the SCH box from both wings. The Blue Devil defense weathered this storm, and the visitors took back some of the momentum in the final stage of the match.

The long-sought insurance goal finally went in for SCH with just over 90 seconds left to play, as Koschineg carried the ball across the 18 on the right side and then slipped it into the middle for Greenberg to punch it home.

Even without Dane Harmaty (who recorded nine goals and eight assists as a freshman last season), the SCH offense has been able to produce enough points to ensure victory.

“They’re big boys, they’re fast and they work well together,” Zalasky remarked. “Luke Greenberg and Peter Kapp ran track last spring, and I think they’ve seen benefits from that.”

Springside Chestnut Hill plays another non-league game this week, then the Blue Devils open the Inter-Ac League season on October 3 with a trip to defending champion Penn Charter.