Senior Ben Stitz scores twice in the second half as No. 1 Curley comes back to top No. 2 McDonogh (VIDEO INTERVIEWS HERE)

by Gary Adornato

Despite its undefeated record and No. 2 area ranking, the McDonogh boys’ soccer team knew it needed to defend well and get a little luck if it were to have a chance to knock off top-ranked Archbishop Curley in their MIAA A Conference showdown, Wednesday afternoon at Curley.

The Eagles checked both of those boxes, but it still proved to not be enough to earn a result, as Curley got two second half goals from senior star Ben Stitz to prevail 2-1 and keep its perfect record intact.

The luck came in the second minute of the game in the form of an own goal by Curley which staked the Eagles to a 1-0 advantage. All-American candidate Nick Richardson made a rare miscue as he played a ball back towards his own goal, but Friar goalkeeper Nathan Wdzieczkowski was out at the top of the box and could not reach the ball before it rolled across the goal line.

For the next 30 minutes or so, the Eagles played Curley evenly, aside from a flurry in the 12th minute when the Friars got off two quality shots inside the McDonogh box, one by senior Tommy Sidleck and the other by junior Thunlyn Garcia. McDonogh keeper Kieran Baskett made a lunging stop on Sidleck’s blast and then popped to his feet for a two-handed stab of Garcia’s return volley.

Curley players celebrate around Ben Stitz after his second goal of the game provided the Friars with a 2-1 lead, their eventual margin of victory. (Photo courtesy of Greg Malinowski)

“Any time you come here, it’s a difficult game, especially with the run they’ve been on the last four or five games. We knew it was going to be difficult,” said McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta. “Obviously, we were fortunate on the goal. In the second half we wanted to come out and do a little more on the offensive end, but I think that is where we lost the game. In the first 20 minutes, we didn’t do much offensively. We had some chances late, to tie it. I think that is what we were looking for in the second half. It was a tight game throughout, but Curley, probably, was a deserving winner for me today with the way they had a little bit more of the ball.”

Curley (9-0 overall, 6-0 MIAA A) slowly built momentum over the first 10 minutes of the second half and the tide appeared to turn in their favor when senior midfielder Nick Balcer settled into open space at the near post and headed a feed inside the post. Curley, however, was ruled offsides on the play and the goal was waived off.

McDonogh’s reprieve was short-lived as it only took two minutes for the Friars to create another opportunity. Sidleck, who was active throughout the contest had a shot blocked up top by a McDonogh defender and crossed the rebound. Stitz was on the other end, about 18 yards from the goal and he unleashed a low left-footed drive that zipped inside the far post.

“I knew going into the second half we were going to have to play better because of the lack of chances we created in the first half,” said Ben Stitz, son of Curley head coach Barry Stitz. “I knew, if we kept creating chances and came out with energy, we would be likely to score.”

A renewed commitment to playing with energy was the key to Curley’s strong second half, according to Sidleck.

“Coach Barry said to come out with energy and that’s what me and Ben focused on, pressuring the defense,” said Sidleck. “I got a shot off, stayed with it and passed it to Ben, and Ben had a good finish.”

With the game tied and the pressure released, Curley turned up the heat on the Eagles (7-1, 5-1), dominating possession on the offensive end. A second Curley goal seemed inevitable and it finally came with 18:01 left on the scoreboard. Again, it was Sidleck feeding Stitz, as he drilled a hard diagonal ball that drew McDonogh keeper Kieran Baskett a stride toward the far post. A sliding Stitz, however, abruptly reversed the ball’s direction, once again beating Baskett inside the far post.

From there Curley created several other excellent opportunities to gather a third goal or even more, but the Friars misfired on three excellent looks. This kept the door open for the Eagles and they nearly walked through it in the final 90 seconds.

Senior Aiden Welsh, who came forth from the backline to make a positive impact in the offensive zone in the later stages of the second half, unleashed a hard shot inside the 18. The ball was blocked by a Curley defender, but the rebound created an open look for senior Casey Settleman, McDonogh’s leading scorer, but his hard shot sailed high over the goal.

Curley coach Barry Stitz said his team’s early mistake made a tough job even harder.

“We were having a tough time breaking them down. McDonogh is very good team and they are very, very organized,” said Stitz. “It’s going to take some time to break them down, but at the same time we dug ourselves a hole over a lack of communication. You can’t do that at this level against teams like that. It made our job even harder.

“I’m pleased with the way we came back. I thought in spurts in the first half and as the game went on, we played better, but the message at halftime is that there was no where near enough energy to win a game against a team of their level. The energy level picked up, we created some things, and a couple guys made some plays. Once we got up, the game opened up and we probably could have had a couple more, to put the game away. We didn’t, but at least we had those chances.”

Curley moves on to a game at Gilman on Friday, while McDonogh will battle Mount St. Joseph on Friday night in Owings Mills. St. Joe (6-1 MIAA A) defeated Calvert Hall, 2-0, on Friday, and matches Curley’s 18 points in the conference standings thus far.

St. Joe’s first goal came with just 11 seconds left in the first half when Jordan Ehart assisted Johnny Sloop. With 22 minutes left in the contest, sophomore Nate Porter scored, off corner by Ian Reager.

Picture above Curley’s Ben Stitz, who scored both Friar goals, prepares to play a ball. (Photo courtesy of Greg Malinowski)