Two-time defending champion Eagles primed for another post-season run

by Joe DiBlasi

November is nearing and the McDonogh boys soccer team is peaking.

The third-ranked Eagles have had some ups and downs throughout the 2019 season, but the two-time defending MIAA A Conference champions know how to peak at the right time. Exhibit A was Friday’s 3-1 home win over No. 1 Mount St. Joseph that moved the Eagles to the verge of clinching the Red Division of the A Conference and one of the top seeds for the post-season.

McDonogh (11-4-1 overall, 9-3 MIAA A) was led by more outstanding play from junior Richie Nichols, who had a goal and an assist.

With 21 minutes to play in the second half, Nichols served in a beautiful free kick from close to midfield, that Mason Christian found, just yards away from the goal. Christian tapped in a header on what proved to be the winning goal.

“We work on that play in practice with someone setting a pick for Mason, and I knew if I put it right on the six, the keeper would come out and Mason had a free header,” said Nichols. “We needed this win to give us a bye, so that we can get rested and prepare for the semifinals.”

Joel Brown dribbled past two St. Joe defenders to put the Eagles up 1-0 with seven minutes to go in the first half and Nichols made it 2-0 minutes later on a feed from Vincent Petrera.

The Gaels (10-3-1, 7-3-1) cut McDonogh’s lead in half when Lam Miles, scored at the 22:16 mark in the second half on a feed from Brett Callahan

The Eagles answered just four minutes later to go up 3-1 on Christians’ header, but the Gaels wouldn’t quit. They cut the lead again to one, when Callahan tallied off a free kick from midfield off the foot of Jackson Simon.

An unsung hero for the Eagles was junior Braden Peacock, who took a free-kick off the off his chest with 32 seconds left in regulation, that prevented MSJ from tying the game.

With 27 points and one game to play, McDonogh has a five-point lead on the Gaels, who have two games to play. The Eagles can clinch first place with a win over St. Paul’s in their regular season finale, next Friday, or a loss or tie by St. Joe in one of its final two league games. If McDonogh loses to St. Paul’s and the Gaels win their final two games, they could still win the division.

McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta, now in his sixth year as head coach of the Eagles, will be gunning for his fourth championship when the playoffs begin on October 29.

Quaranta raved about the quality of play by both teams on Friday.

“That was 80 great minutes of high-level intense soccer,” said Quaranta. “Mount Saint Joe is one of the best teams in the league, and in my opinion one of the best teams in the country. They are excellent and well-coached.

“Today was a good step forward for us because we were able to defend in those final moments of the game when Mount Saint Joe continued to step up the pressure.”

Nichols also praised the Gaels

“Mount Saint Joe is a great team. They were very young last year and they are starting to mature. Coach St. Martin does a great job. They have some really good players, especially Tyquan Stroud. Their backline is really strong, and they play really hard as a team.”

St. Joe coach Mike St. Martin said, “We had four golden chances to score in the first half and we didn’t finish any of them. We were pushing shots wide.

“I think we responded well in the second half and we were pressing hard late trying to get that equalizer. Two of their goals were on balls that were lumped into the box, that we didn’t clear out. We fought to the end. To McDonogh’s credit, they did a good job of taking care of their chances. We will be in the mix and we will regroup and be ready for the playoffs.”

Christian summed it up the big win.

“This was a huge week for us. When we got our lead in the first half Richie got a good goal and Joel (Brown) had a good one. I’m proud of how the backline played. We all had to dig deep today. Connor Smith was solid in the goal and I give a lot of credit to Richie on our game winner, when he served a great ball into a perfect spot.”

Pictured above: Richie Nichols (left) had a goal and an assist and Mason Christian scored what proved to be the game-winner in McDonogh’s critical 3-2 win over No. 1 Mount St. Joseph.

MSJ 0 2 — 2
MCD 2 1 — 3
GOALS: MSJ-Lam, Callahan; MCD-Brown, Nichols, Christian.
ASSISTS: MSJ-Callahan, Simon; MCD-Petrera, Nichols.
SAVES: MSJ-Fenstermacher 3, Jones 2; MCD-Smith 5.