SCH senior Scott Bandura (left) gets the jump on Lawrenceville’s Marco Maldacena as the two players go after an airborne ball. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In a three-day span in the middle of last week, the lads of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy won their 2019 Inter-Ac League opener and then put on a masterful display in a non-league victory.

Tuesday’s league debut came against visiting Episcopal Academy, with senior Dane Harmaty netting both goals in the Hillers’ 2-0 win. He was assisted by sophomore R.T. Gentner and junior Ben Hayes, and sophomore goalie Ben Rodgers made three saves for the shutout.

Harmaty scored almost immediately when SCH hosted Lawrenceville School on Thursday, and after leading 3-0 at halftime, the local booters cruised to a 4-0 victory that raised their record to 7-1.

A late 5 p.m. start benefited the teams on Thursday, since some rain showers that passed through the area had moved out by the time play got underway. Lawrenceville, which came into the contest with a mark of 1-3-1 (the tie came against Germantown Academy), was set back on its heels right away. The Hillers attacked and sent the ball across the box from the left side, setting up the finish by Harmaty from outside the right post after just 18 seconds.

Head Coach Brian Zalasky said that getting off to a strong start is something that his club has been working on since its lone loss, a 4-1 setback against La Salle High School in early September.

“They jumped on us right away, scored two goals in the first 12 minutes and had us chasing the game,” the SCH skipper related. “Our early intensity level was sort of lackluster over the first five games, but now we’ve started to come around. We really focused on correcting that; we even changed our warmup.”

The Hillers’ depth of talent has proved valuable recently. Last week, SCH was missing three injured seniors: Jack Rice and team co-captains (along with Harmaty) Kevin Buck and Vince Sciarrotta.

Simon Nong, a senior defender for SCH (left), was able to pass the ball around Owen Donayre of Lawrenceville. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Rodgers has moved into the gap left by former standout Owen Elliott, now playing at Penn State.

“He’s very willing to learn, and he puts a lot of effort into studying about the position,” Zalasky said. “We’re also trying to give some time to our freshman, Rohan [Shetty], to get him experience.”

In the minutes after taking an early lead over Lawrenceville last Thursday, the home side continued to attack. Harmaty hit a shot a little wide to the left, and on a serve from the outside, senior Scott Bandura headed the ball a bit over the crossbar.

Seven minutes into the game, Lawrenceville got off a shot that was way off-target, then SCH came back down and eventually notched a second goal with just over nine minutes gone. From the right wing, Chase Rotelle delivered the ball to the mouth of the goal, and fellow senior Luke Feeney was there for the tap-in. Three minutes later, Feeney and Bandura worked a give-and-go on an attack up the left flank, and Bandura finished in front to raise the tally to 3-0, where it would remain until the final minute of the game.

There were occasional forays on offense by the Big Red in the second half, but SCH remained poised and very much in control. Although the program has graduated two strong classes in a row, Zalasky noted that there remains a core of players who have worked together for several seasons.

“They’ve played a lot of tough games and they’re so familiar with each other,” he said. “They all know the way we want to play; keep the ball on the ground and advance up the field together.”

Even some of the younger athletes, like sophomores Casey Baker and Tommy Monaghan, played a full varsity season in 2018 and are now seasoned contributors. Zalasky noted that a new addition, junior Ben Hayes, has settled in after transferring from Abington High School.

“He’s got a lot of leadership qualities that are starting to emerge,” Zalasky noted, “and that’s key for us right now with two of our captains not on the field.”

Just as it was looking like SCH’s three early goals would make up the final score, the Hillers added a fourth with 42 seconds remaining, when junior Keith McMahon assisted his classmate, Jack Leininger, for the last marker. In goal, Rodgers registered four saves for his fifth shutout of the season.