Inter-Ac soccer matches are usually intense, as evidenced by this battle for ball possession between Patriots sophomore Christian Combs (left) and Malvern’s Gavin Diegidio. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The second of two goals by junior Shane Connolly, coming on a penalty kick just past the middle of the second half, lifted host Germantown Academy to a 2-1 victory in last Tuesday’s Inter-Ac League opener against the Friars of Malvern Prep.

With that outcome, the Patriots equaled their total number of league victories in the 2018 league campaign, when Malvern was GA’s lone victim.

Obviously the Pats don’t want to stop there, but getting a “W” in the books right at the outset is important and could definitely serve as a springboard toward a better 2019.

Asked about how he motivated his club for the start of the league schedule, second-year head coach Kurt Wetzel said, “Last season was brutal. These guys were there and they didn’t like the taste it left in their mouths. They generated plenty of motivation within themselves; I didn’t have to say a word.”

Germantown climbed to an overall record of 6-1-2 with the Malvern win, impressing their coach not only with the outcome but by the manner in which it was achieved.

“Some of the things we’ve been working on are emotion and control,” he related, “and today they did very well in controlling their emotions and controlling their pace of play. They know that as we get into the league, the pace is going to pick up and the game is going to become more physical. I thought the boys played within themselves today and stayed focused.”

Germantown seized the initiative at the outset and got on the scoreboard just over three minutes into the action. Sophomore Christian Combs slipped a pass through to Connolly on the run, and he tucked the ball into the right side of the Friars’ cage.

“When we played with intensity, we created opportunities,” Wetzel commented. “Overall, I thought Malvern closed us down in the back fairly well. They obviously knew Christian Combs and they had him marked from the minute he stepped on the field.”

Nevertheless, Combs repeatedly threatened to escape containment as he attacked along the left flank.

As the middle of the opening half approached, Malvern had a few chances on restarts from the middle of the field out past the 18-yard line. The first time, the Friars shot around the right end of the Patriots’ four-man defensive wall, but in so doing also sent the ball wide of the right post. The second attempt was way off-target.

GA’s regular starter in goal, senior Ryan Fairlie, was unable to play on Tuesday. The Pats had sophomore Lucas Challes go the distance in the net, where he logged four saves.

GA sophomore Connor Wetzel moves the ball up the pitch with Ethan Kogut of the Malvern Friars in pursuit. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Wetzel noted that Challes had already been given significant minutes in goal in earlier non-league matches to prepare for occasions like this.

“He’s our future and he’s going to have to learn to face the pressure of these Inter-Ac games,” the coach pointed out. “Now he’s got one under his belt.”

Malvern put together some runs late in the half, but just couldn’t seem to forge the last link in the scoring chain. Part of this was due to the play of the Patriots’ back row. The unit includes senior Brendan Hasson, already a GA starter as a freshman, and Wetzel’s son, Connor, a sophomore. The outside backs are junior Blake Battisto and sophomore Jake Yuskevich.

Their coach observed, “They made very few mistakes today, and they communicated well.”

Early in the second half, GA junior Kolby Palmer was hurt and had to come off the field. Malvern pushed up the pitch on offense for a stretch of several minutes, and when there was a moment of confusion in the box for the Patriots, junior Corey Brunner tied the game for the Friars with 33:23 remaining.

“They played well, and when had a mix-up in the back they scored,” Wetzel said. “Soccer is a game where missed opportunities can come back to haunt you, and they almost did for us.”

The Patriots had a promising chance to retake the lead around seven minutes after the visitors’ goal. Combs made a run on the left and was able to shield the ball from a defender and get off a shot, but it tracked just outside the near post.

Midway through the period, Malvern had a free kick from outside the box on the right. The ball was served well, but a Friars forward trying to get a head on the ball close to the goal was not quite able to make contact.

Things began to get a little chippy between the teams as they each pressed for a go-ahead goal. Germantown was able to weather a card, then the whistle sounded in the Patriots’ favor, as Combs made another attack from the left side and was taken down as he carried the ball into the box. Connolly converted on the penalty kick, and the final score was now on the board with 17:58 remaining.

A little later, GA backs headed the ball away on Malvern serves into the box off of restarts. As the clock dropped down close to the 10-minute mark, Combs made yet another charge and was able to get away a shot toward the right side of the goal. Malvern keeper Ryan McNeil, a senior, made a difficult save sliding on his knees to keep it a one-goal game.

Mutual yellow cards were slapped on the two sides with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. Malvern sent a long ball inside as the box was crowded with players, but GA’s Challes was able to keep track of the ball and grab it after it bounced off a body nearby. On their last viable chance to tie the match, the Friars hit a shot well above the crossbar of the Germantown goal.

Wetzel was pleased with the poise his team demonstrated after Malvern drew even early in the second half.

“I appreciated the boys’ patience when it became a 1-1 game,” he remarked. “They applied what we’ve been working on about playing with composure, and they let the game come to them.”