La Salle Explorers Celebrate holding the 2017 PCL Boys' Soccer Plaque- PSD photo by Kathy Leister
NORTHEAST PHILADELPHIA - Line up all the players who participated in Monday night’s Catholic League championship and ask them to raise their hand if they didn’t feel battered and bruised Tuesday morning.
Truly, even though so many La Salle Explorers and Roman Catholic Cahillites repeated the words “hard fought”, they were not in any way redundant. Played before a large crowd on a very chilly evening at Northeast High, someone had to emerge victorious.
La Salle 1, Roman Catholic 0.
“The feeling . . . not shocked, but definitely just ecstatic,” said senior Bobby Bohner. “We fought all game. I was unsure at times. Roman played a great game. But we finally got numbers in the box and got that one that was a big relief, but it wasn’t over after that. They had a lot of chances, but luckily, we were able to hold them off til the end.”
In the semifinals against St. Joseph’s Prep, the Explorers almost suffered a stunning defeat. In fact, they were literally inches away from a loss when Bohner saved the season by sprinting to the net just as the ball was about to cross the goal line.
The Explorers would then outscore the Hawks, 2-0, in penalty kicks, and their quest to become the first repeat champion since the 2011-12 La Salle squad was taken off life support.
“The Prep exploited some things in our back line,” said third-year La Salle coach Tom McCaffery. “We went to work to try and clean it up, and I think the guys did a solid job of utilizing the principles we tried to instill, and when you have Brett back there, you always have a chance at a shutout.”
McCaffery was referring to senior goalie Brett Werner. In blanking Roman Catholic, the first-team All-Catholic conducted his 35th career shutout. Asked if this whitewash meant the most, he thought for a few seconds.
“Definitely,” said Werner. “This definitely means the most.
“I can’t describe it. It’s surreal. I don’t know when it’s gonna kick in, but hopefully soon because it’s a great feeling knowing we’re back-to-back champs, and I’m just really happy right now.”
Werner saw a lot of similarities when comparing this year’s title to last year’s.
“Honestly, it’s same exact thing as the first one,” said Werner. “Hard fought battle in the semis . . . a hard-fought battle in the finals. It was another 1-0 score. Point differential the same thing. Just a hard-fought battle.”
Once the Explorers (17-1-2) broke the deadlock with 9:29 remaining in regulation on a chaotic, mad-scramble goal by senior Jacob Mittman, Werner said he experienced a surge of energy.
“It gives you a little bit of a confidence boost,” said Werner. “It also puts a little bit on your shoulders. You gotta get it into a second gear.”
The only blemish on La Salle’s regular-season league record was a 1-1 tie with Lansdale Catholic. Among La Salle’s wins was a 3-0 decision over Roman Catholic on September 29.
The championship, however, was quite different. Neither team maintained long stretches of momentum. Both had several scoring chances. Exorbitant physical play led to several on-field altercations both during and after the contest. Nothing outrageous, but certainly not typical of a championship game.
In the end, La Salle repeated as champs for the fourth time since 1993-1994. The Explorers also won consecutive titles in 2005-2006 and the aforementioned 2011-2012.
“I was never comfortable at any point of the game,” said La Salle senior Joe Brigidi. “Once we got the goal, we got a little pep in our step.”
Then came the clock watching.
“Every 30 seconds you take your peak,” said Brigidi. “When there was a minute left, the seconds started going down quicker and quicker.”
Roman Catholic (15-6), whose only blotch during regular-season league play was the loss to La Salle, was playing in its fourth straight championship. The Cahillites are comprised of significant youth and should be the favorite to seize gold next year.
In the meantime, Roman Catholic’s 11th-year coach Ray DeStephanis lauded the Explorers for their accomplishment while simultaneously praising his never-say-die stalwarts.
PSD photo - Kathy Leister
“First off, congratulations to Tommy and his team on a great season,” said DeStephanis. “As for us, I’m proud of our boys. They gave the effort and played the match they needed to in order to win the game. It’s a very tough spot to be in going down on a goal like that so late in a title match and expect a good result. Still, we collected ourselves and battled fiercely until the very end. I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for us tonight.”
La Salle’s season continued to shine three nights later. In the Class 4A District 12 championship, the Explorers received goals from Brigidi, senior Chris Calabretta, junior Chris Metzler, senior Gio Randazzo, and sophomore Jake Crawford and coasted to a 5-1 triumph over Northeast High School.
Next comes the state tournament on Tuesday against the winner of Saturday’s Central Bucks West vs. Kennett District 1 third-place game. Last year, the Explorers were bounced in the first round.
It’s doubtful that will happen this time around.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)