Toth and Carey shine as Gaels reach MIAA A soccer final by topping Curley in a shootout; top-ranked McDonogh also reaches title game

by Gary Adornato

When Mount St. Joseph won its last MIAA A Conference soccer championship in 2009, the Gaels advanced to the final with an epic shootout victory on the road at Calvert Hall. In 2017, the Gaels are looking to write a similar script as they have returned to the final with another shootout victory on the road, this time at second-ranked Archbishop Curley, on Thursday afternoon in East Baltimore.

After battling the Friars to a 1-1 tie in regulation and going through a pair of scoreless overtimes, the Gaels edged Curley, 5-4, in the penalty kick round, with senior Hayden Toth drilling the game winner in the sixth round of the shootout.

The sixth-ranked Gaels will face top-ranked McDonogh, which defeated No. 11 Loyola, 3-0, in Thursday’s other semifinal. The Gaels and Eagles will square off at Anne Arundel Community College on Sunday evening at 5:30 p.m.

The first four shooters for each team converted their penalty kicks, before St. Joe junior goalkeeper Ashton Carey blocked a low hard shot, just to his left, by Curley’s Logan Peterson. Next, Curley keeper Nathan Wdzieczkowski kept the Friars alive when he saved a blast from the Gaels’ Diego Guerrero. In the sixth round, however, after Carey came up big again with a stop of Curley’s Thunlwyn Garcia, Toth fired a line drive inside the left post as Wdzieczkowski lunged towards the right post, setting off a wild celebration for the Gaels.

“It’s awesome,” said Toth of his winning strike. “I have been on the team since my sophomore year and its my first time starting. Joe Clark, who I have been behind, he’s my brother. He’s going in the Merchant Marines and he came back here. It was really emotional. I am so proud of the boys and I’m proud of myself, actually, for getting that. I just knew that once I had the opportunity, I was going to make it. We’ve been practicing all week. I can’t wait for the championship.”

Carey expressed how difficult a shootout can be on both teams.

“A PK shootout can go any way,” said Carey, who made six, several brilliant saves during the game, in addition to the two in the shootout. “It’s all about coming up big when you need to come up. I came up big once, but that wasn’t enough. Coming up big again, saved us the game.”

Curley, which scored 94 goals this season, well more than double the 43 netted by St. Joe thus far, created numerous chances throughout the afternoon as it had the better of the possession, but the Friars had a difficult time solving the back end of the St. Joe defense. In addition to the fine play of Carey, senior defenders Jordan Ehart and Brett St. Martin each cleared would be goals off the goal line.

St. Joe coach Mike St. Martin, now in his 22nd year with the Gaels with whom he has won three titles (2001, 2005 and 2009), praised his goalkeeper and defense.

“I was just proud of my guys, the way they fought to the end, winning some big 50/50 balls,” said St. Martin. “Curley did a good job of pressing us and I think we did a good job of withstanding the pressure and clearing some balls. Ashton did a good job reading some balls, coming off his line.”

As St. Martin alluded, Curley (18-3-1) pressed on the offensive end for large stretches of the action, especially the first nine minutes of the game. St. Joe, however, got the first goal, at the nine minute mark, when Gurrero had a ball played to him up top and he struck a low hard diagonal shot inside the left post to put St. Joe on top, 1-0.

At the point, all of the pressure shifted to the Friars and it only grew as the Gaels (15-5-1) carried the advantage well into the second half. Early in the second half, Curley lost senior star Ben Stitz, who became the school’s single season goal scoring record holder last week, to a knee injury. Still, the Friars fought on and eventually got the game even, with 21:47 to play in regulation when Chris Mirabile served a ball into the box from the left sideline. Peterson then flicked it on to senior Tommy Sidleck who one timed it into the goal.

Curley gained some momentum from the goal but it was not sustained. Senior star Nick Richardson created two excellent chances, making a run up the middle in the 66th minute and getting off a point blank shot two minutes late, but both attempts were saved by Carey. On the second occasion, Richardson got some space deep in the left side of the box drill a crisp hard riser, which Carey blocked into the air with two hands. Curley Nick Balcer got his head onto the rebound and volleyed it back towards the goal, but it found the post instead of the net.

As exhilarating as the win was for the Gaels, it was just as devastating for the Friars. Curley spent much of the year as the area’s top-ranked team, winning its first 13 games, and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation at one time. After losing in the last two MIAA A championship games, the Friars appeared destined to avenge those losses as they dominated the conference over the first half of the season. As the second half got underway, the Friars were beaten decisively at St. Joe and two weeks ago they were denied the top seed when they suffered a 3-1 loss at McDonogh. Curley bounced back to win its final two games by a combined score of 11-0, but the team’s offense was knocked off tracked on Thursday by the Gaels.

“I am proud of our guys,” said Curley coach Barry Stitz. “They played their hearts out. The ball did not bounce our way. Playoff losses are always tough but even more so when you feel you played well enough to win.”

“It was a battle,” said St. Martin. “They are a very good team, extremely well coached. We knew it was going to be a battle coming here, at their place. It stinks it goes down to PK’s because it was such a good soccer game, at a high level.”

In the other semifinal, McDonogh (19-2), which has been going strong since and early season loss at Curley, methodically wore down Loyola.

Reversing an early loss to the Dons (12-8-1), Andrew Privett got McDonogh on the board in the 12th minute. Loyola created a couple of chances for the equalizer, but Aiden Walsh scored in the 35th minute to give McDonogh a commanding 2-0 lead at the half.

Midway through the second half, Jason Cyrus netted the Eagles’ third goal. Senior star Casey Settleman added a pair of assists in the win.

Pictured above: Senior Hayden Toth (left) scored the clinching goal in St. Joe’s shootout playoff victory over Archbishop Curley and junior goalie Ashton Carey had saves including two in the shootout.

(MSJ won, 5-4, on penalty kicks)
MSJ 1 0 – 0 0 – (5) – 2
AC 0 1 – 0 0 – (4) – 1
SHOOTOUT GOALS: MSJ—Reger, St. Martin, Ehart, Jordan, Toth; AC—Dragisics, Harry, Richardson, Sidleck.
ASSISTS: AC-Peterson.
SAVES: MSJ—Carey 8; AC—Wdzieczkowski 4.

LOY 0 0 — 0
MCD 2 1 — 3
GOALS: MCD—Privett, Welsh, Brown.
ASSISTS: MCD—Settleman 2.
SAVES: LOY—Milmoe 5; MCD—Baskett 1.