Archbishop Curley and Calvert Hall wrote another classic chapter in the storied history of their soccer rivalry, Thursday in Towson, as the visiting Friars stunned the Cardinals, 2-1, with a last minute goal in a MIAA A Conference soccer semifinal match.
The win sets up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown, Sunday, for the MIAA A Conference championship at CCBC-Essex. The second-ranked Friars will face No. 1 McDonogh, as the undefeated Eagles advanced with a 1-0 win over defending champion Loyola, in Thursday’s other semifinal.
The Friars (17-8) and Cardinals (13-6-1) appeared destined for overtime, but Curley’s ever dangerous senior forward Tre Pulliam created one final chance when he settled a long ball near the top of the box and drew a trio of defenders towards him, before sliding the ball out to the right where junior Alejandro Arbelaez pumped a right-footed blast inside the right post for the game-winner, with just 23 seconds to play in the contest.
Curley’s first goal also came in dramatic fashion, in the 39th minute of the first half, and once again Pulliam was the key figure.
In a play that had the look of a basketball give-and-go, Pulliam dribbled to the top of the box and played a ball to senior Tyler Jackson in the right corner. Jackson one-timed the ball right back to the center of the box where Pulliam won it with a header which he drilled into the back of the net, denying the Cardinals of taking a 1-0 lead to the half.
Despite missing the Friars first two league games this fall, Pulliam now has 29 goals and 10 assists in 2015, playing in the area’s toughest league and against a top non-conference schedule.
Pulliam’s first thought on the winning goal was to trigger a shot before he spotted a better opportunity.
“I actually thought I saw a goal, but I saw Ally had a better chance and I got him the ball,” said Pulliam. “He put it in; he did what he had to do.”
Arbelaez gave his teammate all the credit for creating his opportunity.
“I just saw Tre faked it and got it to me and then I saw the right side of the goal open,” said Arbelaez.
Curley head coach Barry Stitz has seen Pulliam put the Friars on his back before.
“He’s been making big plays all year. He’s certainly played at the highest level in Club, so he’s been in games like this and that’s who you count on to make the plays,” said Stitz. “He made a big one before the half ended, got us back in the game, and then again, the composure down there to find a teammate. We knew they were going to pay a lot of attention to him and they did a great job for most of the game. He just saw somebody who was open and Alejandro got a good strike on it and we won the game.”
Despite having few first half opportunities in the offensive end, Calvert Hall actually struck first in the contest. The Cardinals got the ball in deep on a counter attack and junior Ben Alexander found some space in the center of box before a sliding a beautiful ball to the right that turned into an easy tap in for classmate Reugo Nnadozie, giving the Cards a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
The goal took some of the steam out of the Friars’ sails as they had nothing to show for some quality work and several opportunities. The Cardinals also gained some momentum and played their best 20 minutes of the match at that point.
Curley came out strong early in the second half and nearly took the lead on several occasions. In the 42nd minute, sophomore Ben Stitz drove a bender out of the left corner that required a punch out by Calvert Hall keeper Sam Loeffler. In the 49th minute, Curley junior Brenden Hollingsworth drove a hard ball into the box that Pulliam headed over the crossbar. Stitz had a low shot to the left saved in the 51st minute and, in the 52nd minute Hollingsworth headed another shot above the crossbar.
The inability to finish seemed to wear on the Friars and Calvert Hall took advantage to create some chances of their own. In the 61st minute, Alexander made a hard charge into the box before being turned away in the box with a sliding kick save by Curley keeper Angelo Petrucey. One minute later, Alexander was at it again, serving a ball to senior Carmillo Sanchez who lined a crisp header into Petrucey’s chest.
At that point the game evened out a bit and the action was going end-to-end, as the game began to look as if it would require more than 80 minutes to decide.
“That was a heck of a high school game by both teams. They came out ready to play. We knew they were going to,” said Stitz. “The goal we scored at the end of the first half was big. They started getting momentum after they scored and had a lot of energy.
“I thought we played pretty well in the second half. I think near the end we were running out of gas a little bit. Guys were out there on fumes, both teams, and we had guys step up and make plays at the right time. The kid hit a big shot. That’s what you dream about when you think about soccer.”
Calvert Hall coach Rich Zinkand agreed with Stitz’s assessment on the quality of the contest.
“It was a great game. This is what it’s about. This is why kids come to Calvert Hall and Curley,” said Zinkand. “It hurts being on the losing end of it, especially getting down to the last seconds. Credit to Curley. No doubt about it. They got it in the end. It was a tough game.”
Curley is returning to the MIAA final for the first time since the 2006 and 2007 seasons, when the Friars played McDonogh in back-to-back years, winning the first first and losing the second. On Sunday, Curley will be seeking its fourth league championship, while McDonogh will be looking for its eighth championship banner.
Playing without its top scorer, senior Tunde Akinlosotu, who was suspended from the team for undisclosed disciplinary reasons early this week, the Eagles (20-0-1) avenged a loss to Loyola in last year’s championship game.
The gutsy Dons (10-9) played McDonogh to a scoreless standstill in the first half, but in the 47th minute Jackson Morrill dropped a long throw-in into the box that kicked back to the foot of Andrew Hopkins. From 18 yards, Hopkins kissed a hard shot off the post and across the line for what would prove to be the only goal of the contest.
No. 7 Loyola pressed for the equalizer and had its chances, but McDonogh goalkeeper Armon Medghi and the Eagles’ outstanding back-line refused to surrender the shutout. Medghi finished with five saves and Loyola’s Carson Hunt had three.
The Eagle defense will now turn its attention to Curley and Pulliam. McDonogh beat Curley 2-0 and 3-1 in the regular season. Pulliam missed the first game, but did score early in the second one. It was the only time this season, McDonogh has trailed in a game. The talented senior striker is excited for the opportunity.
“I’ve been in the semifinals three times and this is my first time actually winning it. It feels good to make it the championship,” said Pulliam. “We’ll have to wear our heart on our sleeve to win this game because they are a tough team.”
“We’re going to have to play our best game of the year on Sunday. We’re not going over there just to be there. We’re going over there to try and get the win,” said the Curley coach. “The key there is going to be to realize we’re in the final, we deserve to be in the final and we’re right there with them. We’ve got to make plays again and play with confidence.”
MIAA A CONFERENCE SOCCER SEMIFINALS
NO. 2 ARCHBISHOP CURLEY 2, NO. 4 CALVERT HALL 1
AC 1 1 — 2
CH 1 0 — 1
GOALS: AC-Pulliam, Arbelaez; CH-Nnandozie.
ASSISTS: AC-Jackson, Pulliam; CH-Alexander.
SAVES: AC-Petruccy 4; CH-Loeffler 3.
NO. 1 MCDONOGH 1, NO. 7 LOYOLA 0
LOY 0 0 — 0
MCD 0 1 — 1
SAVES: LOY-Hunt 3, Medghi 5.