BRADFORD — The St. Marys boys soccer team didn’t get off to the start they hoped for Monday night against Port Allegany in the District 9 Class 2A championship game, but a strong finish more than made up for it in a 4-1 victory that gave the Flying Dutchmen their second straight title.
Port junior Howie Stuckey scored just 17 seconds into the game to give the Gators the early momentum in the title tilt at Bradford High School.
St. Marys’ pulled even just past the 11-minute mark of the game on a goal by AJ Meeker. The score then remained deadlocked 1-1 deep into the second half in a matchup where shots proved to come a premium most of the night.
The Dutchmen (11-8) proved to be the side that capitalized more on its opportunities and took the lead for good with just 10:02 remaining in the game on a hustle play by Cody Schaberl.
The senior defender proved to be at the right place at the right as he got himself into the action during a flurry in the Gators box that started with a shot by Dutchman Coby Novak.
A Port defender tries to clear the ball out of harm’s way, but his clearing attempt hit a leaping Schaberl and deflected all the way back past keeper Brandon Peterson and into the Gator net to put the Dutch up 2-1.
The goal, which proved to be the championship-clincher, was the first of Schaberl’s varsity career. After a brief celebration the defensive-minded Dutchmen went right back to work to preserve the lead.
Schaberl’s goal appeared to take the wind out of the Gators’ sails, and St. Marys’ effort to maintain its slim one-goal advantage was aided by a pair of goals by junior Vinicius Nunes in the final eight minutes.
Nunes’ first goal came with 7:55 to play on a penalty kick after the Gators were called for a handball in the box, while the second came with just 48 ticks left.
Port never could mount much of an attack after Schaberl’s goal and mustered just six shots in the game — two in the second half. St. Marys’ keeper Jonathan Chamberlin made four saves en route to recording the victory.
The fact the game was tied late into the game shouldn’t have come as a surprise to fans of either side, as the teams split a pair of one-goal games in the regular season. The Dutch won 4-3 at home on Sept. 15, while the Gators won 3-2 on their field on Oct. 4.
“It feels really good to win the title again,” said St. Marys coach Russ Micale. “At the beginning of the season, this is what we wanted and where we wanted to be. I honestly believed we could make it back here and repeat.
“But, if you asked me that same question in the middle of the season, I would have said we’re not looking very good. It’s been kind of a roller coaster season for us, but we came together and really pulled it in for playoffs to beat two good teams in Punxsy and Port Allegany who beat us during the regular season.
“I couldn’t be more prouder of these guys to stick with it and pull this one out. The old adage of defensive wins championships is 100 percent true, and defense is the first priority for us and then you’re moving forward on the attack.
“That goal by Cody was his first varsity goal, which was awesome to see. Getting that insurance goal was really huge though, because just like they scored that quick goal tonight, they have also scored against us in the final seconds (in other games). Port has very dangerous guys up front and can score with very little time.
Stuckey’s quick strike stunned the Dutchmen faithful in attendance, but St. Marys didn’t let the early lead get to them and worked its way into the flow of the game — which was largely played in the midfield in the opening 40 minutes.
The Dutch pulled even when Meeker found the back of the net on his team’s first shot of the game 11:05 in. Meeker headed a ball from the right side that found its way over top Peterson.
The ball bounced just behind Peterson in front of the goal line, with the spin taking it across most of the goal mouth before rolling into the net.
St. Marys had a chance to go up just over a minute later but Peterson stopped a shot by Dutchman Matthew Palmer. Nunes also had a shot go just wide from the right side just past the 17-minute mark.
The teams combined for just four shots over the final 20 minutes of the half. Port had three of those scoring chances but Chamberlin stopped two of them while the third was sailed high over the Dutch net.
Nunes had another scoring chance with just over nine minutes left in the half, but Peterson denied the Dutchmen to keep it a 1-1 game at the break.
St. Marys seized control of the action following halftime and had a quartet of good scoring chances in the first 20 minutes o the second half while holding the Gators shotless during that stretch.
CJ McGowan had a direct kick turned away just over two minutes into the half, while Peterson denied a shot by Nunes in the 51st minute.
Dutchmen Noah Crissman just missed making it 2-1 in the 53rd minute, but his redirect attempt off a corner kick went just over top the crossbar. Nunes had a shot got just wide midway through the half as the game remained tied 1-1.
St. Marys kept the pressure on the Gator net into the final 20 minutes.
Sophomore Nathaniel Eckert had a prime scoring chance with just under 14 minutes to play, but his header on a cross on a direct kick went just wide.
Port Allegany had its best chance to take the just before the 69-minute mark when Stuckey found himself open the right side of the Dutch box. Stuckey fired a shot on goal, but Chamberlin smothered the shot at the near post.
Just over a minute Schaberl put St. Marys up for good as they finished off the title victory in style to earn another trip to the PIAA playoffs.
The Dutchmen open state play next Tuesday against the District 10 runner-up at a site and time to be determined.