Ben Rodgers, the Blue Devils’ sophomore goalie, recorded one the most significant shutouts of his career last Friday. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In Inter-Ac League boys’ soccer, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy took a significant step toward clinching the 2019 championship last Friday at Haverford School.

Exactly three weeks earlier, defending league champ Haverford had defeated the Blue Devils on their home patch, 1-0. In last week’s rematch, SCH turned that score around in its favor, attaining a 7-1 record in the Inter-Ac with two games remaining.

Although the Fords had beaten the Devils the first time around, they’d also lost to both Penn Charter and Episcopal Academy, and they came out of Friday’s contest with a 5-3 mark in the league. The closest team in the Inter-Ac standings to SCH, Haverford could no longer finish with more than seven victories, which meant that SCH had clinched at least a tie for the championship.

If the Blue Devils (13-4 overall) can win their Senior Day game on Tuesday, Oct. 29 against visiting Penn Charter (3-5 league), they’ll own the 2019 title outright.

With 19 minutes and 10 seconds remaining in last Friday’s battle at Haverford, SCH freshman Daniel Heep scored the game’s lone goal off a header on a play that began with a throw-in by senior Scott Bandura. The Fords attacked vigorously trying to put in a tying goal, but Ben Rodgers, the Blue Devils’ sophomore goalie, held on for the shutout with 10 saves.

On Tuesday of last week, SCH defeated a much-improved Germantown Academy side, 2-1, raising its league record to 6-1 before the Haverford game.

Going into Friday’s match on the Main Line, Heep related, “We knew it was a big game, because if we won it, we’d be able to win the league by beating Penn Charter on Tuesday.”

The first game against the Fords, the 0-1 setback, had come on a very windy day in Chestnut Hill when, according to SCH head coach Brian Zalasky, calculated strategy became largely irrelevant since both teams were simply “in survival mode.”

Over the years, the trademark of Haverford School soccer has been the ability to move the ball precisely around the field with skillful, feet-to-feet passes. That wasn’t evident on Friday, when from the outset, the Fords sailed the ball long over the midfield and had forwards chase it down. Impressive long punts and six-yarders from accomplished senior goalie Will Boyes complemented this style of play.

Afterward, Zalasky commented, “I’ve never seen them play like this, and it kind of caught us off-guard in the first 15 minutes. Maybe they were trying to pressure our goalie because he’s young, but Ben stepped up big time.”

After several of these forays by Haverford, SCH went up to earn a corner kick from the left side, but no one could make contact with the ball in the box. On subsequent serves inside by both teams, neither squad got off a shot. After that, the Fords had the ball inside the box and kicked it back out past the 18-yard line for sophomore Asher Laackman, who drilled the ball just outside the left post.

A few minutes before he scored the only goal in last Friday’s key Inter-Ac win, Springside Chestnut Hill freshman Daniel Heep (left) threatens Haverford keeper Will Boyes. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

As the middle of the first half approached, Haverford was unable to get off a shot on back-to-back corner kicks; on one, the ball was headed away by the Blue Devils’ Bandura. On the ground near SCH’s right goalpost, sophomore Casey Baker cleared away a loose ball before the Fords could home in on it.

Coming back upfield after fending off two corner-kick plays by the home team, the visitors had Bandura heave the ball in near the goalmouth on one of his long throw-ins, but one of his teammates was called for a push during the scramble in front.

With a dozen minutes left, Devils sophomore R.T. Genther served the ball in from the left wing. Senior Vince Sciarotta ran onto it from the other edge of the box, but fired high. His classmate, Luke Feeney, booted the ball wide to the left on another shot, and when the Fords reversed the flow, they had one long aerial tipped away by Rodgers and then had a man called offsides on a promising run.

On one notable sequence, the Fords put their short passing game on display as half-a-dozen players shuttled the ball left and right above the 18. It seemed one of them would find an opening for a shot at any second, but SCH defenders managed to partially obstruct the firing lanes every time.

The period ended with the score still 0-0.

The importance of the contest in the context of the championship chase had drawn a number of SCH fans across the Schuylkill, and Haverford had a large crowd on hand for a ceremony recognizing no fewer than 17 seniors on its varsity soccer squad.

Five minutes into the second half, Haverford’s Boyes stopped an outside shot up the middle just under the crossbar, and the Blue Devils couldn’t chase down the loose ball. With 10 minutes elapsed, they earned a corner from the right that bore no fruit, and soon after that, a shot from the left side of the box by Sciarrotta strayed just wide of the far post.

On the visitors’ end, Rodgers saved two Haverford shots from close range, a header by Laackman and a flick by fellow 10th grader Zion Georges.

As the clock cut under the 20-minute mark, the Blue Devils attacked up the left flank and the ball went out over the sideline off of a defender. Bandura’s throw travelled high in the air and out close to the 18. When senior Dane Harmaty flicked the ball in the air toward the right side of the box, Haverford’s Boyes advanced out of the goal and Heep headed the ball over him into the cage.

It was not the freshman’s first varsity goal, but it was his first in the Inter-Ac. Compact and wiry, Heep has good leaping ability, and he said he doesn’t hesitate when there’s an opportunity for a head ball.

A few minutes after that, Haverford’s Georges hit a cross just a little too high. With a dozen minutes remaining, Boyes tried to clear the ball on a kick, but had it bounce off a charging Harmaty and almost roll back into the net.

Next, Boyes dove to deflect a ball booted by Heep, and on the ensuing SCH corner kick, the Fords’ keeper took the ball out of the air.

Haverford attacked vigorously through much of the final 10 minutes, but to no avail. Rodgers batted away a long serve, junior Connor Koschineg cleared the ball out on a Fords corner kick and 11th grader Christian Vetter headed the ball out of danger when it dipped into the box on a long free kick by the home team.

The scoreboard clock, which had been reluctant to start the second half, eventually clicked down to zero to the delight of the Devils.

“I think that was only the third goal their keeper has given up in the league,” Zalasky observed. “It’s always great if you can come away with a win here because of the history of their program and their pedigree.”