With fans lined up along the far sideline and St. Francis Prep and Archbishop Molloy ferociously battling for every loose ball, the second regular-season meeting between the archrivals had a playoff-type feel to it.
And the postseason is when the Stanners play their best.
The two-time defending CHSAA Class A intersectional champions sent a message last Thursday afternoon, handing St. Francis Prep its first loss of the year in a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Alley Pond Park.
“In the playoffs, everybody steps their game up so it’s good to see that as we’re ending with [four league] games left that guys are starting to be physical,” Molloy Co-captain Sebastian Altomarino said.
They were certainly physical last Thursday, too much so for St. Francis Prep Coach Franco Purificato’s liking.
“I thought it was absolutely outrageous what [referee Jiye Zhang] was letting them get away with,” Purificato said. “They were really hitting us hard. We touched the ball once and [our] guy was on the floor every single time. You worry about the kids. These kids have somewhere to go, they’re going to go play in college. I don’t need them breaking an ankle now.”
According to Stanners Co-captain Chris Zappel, Molloy (7-2-2) knew it had to set the tone physically after getting outmuscled by Fordham Prep in a 2-0 loss Oct. 5 at home.
“Especially after Fordham [and their] big guys, we got pushed off a lot,” he said. “The younger guys knew if they didn’t get big, they were going to get knocked [around] and I think that really made them step up today.”
Zappel scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 14th minute, calmly tapping the ball into an open net after St. Francis Prep goalkeeper Joseph Cala came out to play the initial attempt. It was the first deficit the Terriers faced all year.
“It was like, ‘Oh, yeah, all right,” Zappel said of his thoughts as he stared at the open net. “If I had missed it, coach would have … I don’t even know.”
The Stanners controlled the rest of the first half, often frustrating a St. Francis Prep squad that plays a more finesse brand of soccer.
“They’re best playing physical, so why not?” St. Francis Prep star senior Frank Biordi said. “They used it to their advantage. We’re a small team, they overpowered us, they jumped higher than us.”
After a testy first half, the game settled down after halftime, but St. Francis Prep (11-1-0), ranked No. 2 in the city by the New York Post and No. 7 in the country by the NSCAA, couldn’t capitalize on its chances. Two minutes into the half, Danny Finn flicked Chris Joseph’s service off a free kick over the bar. Three minutes later, Biordi snuck in behind the Molloy defense, but he whiffed on his shot.
In the 58th minute, Biordi put a quickly taken free kick off the Stanners wall and in the 64th minute, Steven Ehresman’s 30-yard volley was parried over the crossbar.
The Terriers’ best chance, though, came in the game’s final minute, but Biordi’s near-post shot from 16 yards was saved.
“We can’t blame anyone but ourselves,” Biordi said. “We didn’t play hard, we didn’t match their intensity and that’s the reason why we lost. They had the early goal, too, so they had an advantage playing on this field.”
While Molloy, ranked No. 6 in the city by the Post, avoided watching St. Francis Prep celebrate winning the division title on its home field, the Terriers need just one win in the final three games to claim the crown. But while Purificato downplayed the importance of the loss, it was a big win for Molloy as it heads down the stretch.
“We’re definitely not going to let them beat us twice, especially not at home,” Altomarino said.
“We had to rebound from the game we had on Tuesday [Oct. 5],” Molloy Coach Andy Kostel said. “It was a good game to win as far as playing and beating a team that’s very good.”
©2010 Community News Group
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