Saves send LaSalle to PCL final
BENSALEM » Brett Werner lives for this this time of the year.
The La Salle senior goalkeeper showed why as his season came down to a penalty kick shootout with St. Joseph’s Prep in their Philadelphia Catholic League boys soccer semifinal last Wednesday night. Fresh off his first-team all-PCL selection, Werner put the game in his hands and saved all three PKs the Hawks were able to put on target.
As a result, the Explorers are in their second straight PCL title game, advancing 2-0 on PKs after playing the Prep to a 2-2 draw at United German-Hungarians Soccer Club.
“You just have to survive and advance,” La Salle center back Cole Hammel said. “You have to just grind it out, get the win and move on. You can’t dwell on how you did it.”
La Salle, the top overall seed in the PCL tournament, edged the No. 4Hawks 1-0 back in September. While both teams have undergone some changes since then, La Salle knew they were going to get a fight. While the Prep might have been a year ahead of schedule in challenging for a spot in the final, they believed they were good enough to get there.
After La Salle took a 1-0 lead when Hammel headed in a Chris
Metzler corner kick in the eighth minute, the Hawks responded with a flurry of energy and positive energy. Evan Filak scored twice in four minutes, tying the game in the 19th minute and then putting the Hawks up 2-1 in the 23rd to shift momentum in the game.
“What I said to our guys was when you play in games like this and come to venues like this, people talk and remember games, what I asked them to do tonight was not remember the game but remember the season,” Prep coach Joe Coyle said. “Nobody expected us to be here, we graduated seven starters and 14 seniors, we’re only starting three seniors, so the future is bright. We didn’t look at is as playing with house money, we looked at is as we deserved to be here.”
Both of Prep’s goals came off backside runs that left Werner too exposed. Hammel said the backline had to tighten up and was able to do so for the rest of the game.
While trailing, Werner said he and his teammates had to find a way to up their energy but also stay calm.
La Salle tied it up with less than nine minutes remaining in the first half. Center mid Gio Randazzo played a diagonal ball out that slithered through traffic and found Metzler on the right side. The winger got himself in space and buried the try past Prep keeper Aidan Hartey.
“We were trying to look for crosses and passes to the far post where we had guys crashing,” Metzler said. “We wanted to get it to our guys out wide and let them do what they do.”
Hartey had a fantastic game in goal for the Prep, making seven saves and also coming down with almost every ball La Salle put into the air. The keeper, who won the starting job during the season, made a couple clutch stops on Chris Calabretta in regulation and a huge save on a Randazzo free kick in the first overtime.
“He probably got us here tonight,” Coyle said. “As it got down to the end, I told our guys that if La Salle wins, you run out there too and support him. He’s a tough kid, a really, really tough kid.”
Right after that free kick by Randazzo, La Salle saw its season flash before its eyes. The Prep’s Kane Ritchie got in behind the defense and with Werner pulled out, took a shot toward the gaping, open net. As the ball slid across the grass, La Salle senior Bobby Bohner sprinted after it, sliding and kick the ball off the goal line to save the game and the year.
“I’m just happy Bob’s on our team, that’s just one of those special plays,” Hammel said. “It woke us up. That could have been the end of our season, but now we have another chance.”
As the clock expired on the end of 110 minutes of soccer, Werner was ready to take over.
“I look forward to it,” Werner said. “Once the buzzer goes off, I prepare myself mentally to analyze the shooter and let my mechanics take over.”
A towering 6-foot-5 with lightning- quick reaction times, Werner is seemingly built to deny spot kicks.
“Other than the fact that if I lay down, I can touch the posts, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at reading how their body language affects the way they shoot,” Werner said. “That goes out to my goalkeeper trainer, George (McDermott), he taught me a lot. I just put it all out on the field and things happen.”
Werner palmed the first Prep PK over the bar, the second Hawks take was off- target and hemade two diving stops on the final two tries, the last sending his team into the final.
Hartey made it as tough as he could, denying Calabretta on La Salle’s third try, but coupled with Werner’s heroics, makes by Metzler and Hammel were enough to send the Explorers through.
“Hit it hard and low, on this field anything can happen with a bounce,” Hammel said. “Really, it was staying composed in front of the net and we were able to do that twice.”
MORE THAN A GAME » Prior to the opening tap, both teams came together in a moment of silence and prayer in memory of Prep junior Sal DiNubile, a hockey player, who was shot and killed the night before the game in Philadelphia.
The Hawks were playing with heavy hearts on Wednesday and while the two schools are bitter athletic rivals, the La Salle players knew it didn’t matter in that moment.
“You feel for anybody who’s affected by that situation,” Hammel said. “You’re all brothers in that moment; you want to show your respect.”
“Tomorrow, we have to get up and go to class and Sal’s still going to be gone and we’ll have to deal with that,” Coyle said. “It’s so cliché to say it, but it’s just a game. It’s as true for us as it is for anybody, we see it crystal clear.”
LaSalle’s Sean McCallum beats St. Joe’s Prep’s Aidan O’Neillon a header during their PCL semifinal Wednesday.