Wood out­lasts Ro­man for ti­tle

The Review - - SPORTS - By An­drew Robin­son arobin­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @ADRobin­son3 on Twit­ter

Joe Bara­noski chalked it up to fate.

As a Ro­man Catholic penalty kick clanged off the cross­bar in the fi­nal minute of the sec­ond over­time Sun­day night, the Wood se­nior de­fender knew fate was send­ing a mes­sage it was his team’s night. Sure, he and the rest of the de­fen­sive unit had been tremen­dous once again, but with a ti­tle on the line, Bara­noski knew it would re­quire some­thing a lit­tle bit more.

Con­nor Ford came up clutch in a shootout for the sec­ond straight game and this time, it helped Wood earn the ul­ti­mate prize of a PCL ti­tle after the Vik­ings topped No. 1 seed Ro­man Catholic 4-1 in the shootout fol­low­ing a riv­et­ing 0-0 draw in dou­ble over­time.

“If I can be hon­est, when they pointed to the penalty spot, in my heart I didn’t think it was go­ing to go in,” Bara­noski said. “It hap­pened, it hit the bar and I thought ‘it’s meant to be.’ Then we got the plaque. It was our night.”

The 0-0 score­line after 110 min­utes does lit­tle to flat­ter the tempo, en­ergy and phys­i­cal­ity the two top teams in the Philadel­phia Catholic League played with in front of a packed house at North­east High School. Ro­man topped Wood 1-0 in the reg­u­lar season in sim­i­lar type of game, so both sides knew ex­actly what they were walk­ing into.

Both of them were pretty hun­gry for a ti­tle as well. Ro­man sought its first hub­cap since 2015 after com­ing up on the wrong end of the re­sult to La Salle the last two years in the PCL fi­nal. Wood made its first cham­pi­onship ap­pear­ance since

win­ning the ti­tle in 2014, so none of the cur­rent play­ers had hoisted their own.

Wood se­nior Koty Tay­lor, the re­lent­less main cog in their at­tack, bore a cut un­der his right eye picked up after tak­ing a boot to the face chal­leng­ing for the ball as he ex­plained what the ti­tle meant to him and his class­mates.

“All four years, I’d never beaten Ro­man so it was a pretty cool ex­pe­ri­ence fi­nally get­ting past them on PKs but we knew it would be a hard game and ev­ery­one would be play­ing fast,” Tay­lor said. “We were def­i­nitely ready. This feels amaz­ing, it’s the one thing I’ve wanted all four years.”

That nei­ther one of the teams’ at­tack­ing units, two of the best in the PCL, couldn’t score is a tes­ta­ment to a re­silient de­fen­sive ef­fort from both ends. Ro­man keeper Kevin Tobin made four saves, in­clud­ing a su­perb de­nial of a point­blank rocket of a shot from Tay­lor and his backs, led by a ster­ling ef­fort from Kieran Don­nelly, con­tained Wood’s speed.

On the Vik­ings end, the vet­eran-laden de­fen­sive unit held their own du­el­ing Ro­man’s twin tower for­wards Jared Dil­lon and Eric Wil­liams and the pace on the out­sides from Kieran Boyle and Nick LoBiondo. Be­hind ev­ery great goal­keeper, or more ac­cu­rately in front of ev­ery great goal­keeper, is a great back line and Ford again heaped as much credit as he could on his de­fend­ers — se­niors Bara­noski, Joe Trod­den and Sean Ker­chak and ju­nior Matt Mur­phy.

“Ev­ery sin­gle one of them played amaz­ing,” Ford said of his back line. “They’re all fan­tas­tic. They won ev­ery ball, blocked ev­ery shot, I didn’t have to do all that much.”

Ker­chak, Mur­phy and Bara­noski all blocked key shots while Trod­den tus­sled with Dil­lon, Ro­man’s phys­i­cal all-state, all-PCL for­ward for most of the even­ing. Throw in Ford, also a se­nior, and right back Bara­noski said they can could prob­a­bly play with­out talk­ing, al­though they like hear­ing each other work through de­fen­sive stands.

“We com­mu­ni­cated well, ev­ery time they came through we all said what man we had and play­ing with the guys for so long, you just know where they’re go­ing to be,” Bara­noski said. “If you just do your job, you’re go­ing to be alright with this group. Con­nor talks to Joe, Joe is vo­cal to the out­side and we work it all the way up the field.”

Ford, who’s been as cool as they come all post­sea­son, ad­mit­ted he was ner­vous when Ro­man was awarded the penalty kick with less than a minute left in the sec­ond over­time. Dil­lon, who drew the foul, stepped up to take it but put a lit­tle too much on the shot, hit­ting it off the bar as Ford went the wrong way.

“I got lucky it hit off the bar, but I re­spect him as a player and I hope he keeps his head high,” Ford said. “He’s had an out­stand­ing season and he played an out­stand­ing game tonight.”

While fall­ing short of the PCL ti­tle for the third straight season was a tough pill for the se­niors of Ro­man to take, Cahillites coach Ray Stepha­nis noted un­like the last two years, they aren’t done yet. Los­ing to La Salle the past two years ended Ro­man’s season, but as the last 4A team left in this year’s play­offs, the Cahillites move on to this week’s District 12 ti­tle game.

Plus, as DeStepha­nis noted, the only other time his team lost this season, it re­sponded with a pretty long win­ning streak.

“I said be emo­tional, let it hurt but you have other chances, we ran six or seven wins off since that other loss, so there’s no rea­son we can’t do it again,” DeStepha­nis said. “It’s why we were the two best teams in the league this year and you knew it would come down to some­thing like that at the end. We’ll give them some time off and I think it’ll be right back to work at prac­tice on Tues­day.”

Wood se­nior Bob Hen­nessey is one of the Vik­ings’ base­ball team’s bet­ter hit­ters but for a dif­fer­ent rea­son, he is Ford’s fa­vorite lead­off man. In both Sun­day’s shootout and Wed­nes­day’s shootout win over La Salle in the PCL semis, Hen­nessey started things with a made PK.

Ford then fol­lowed with saves on both op­po­nents’ first shots.

“I think it’s just a con­nec­tion,” Hen­nessey said. “We play on the same club team, we’ve played to­gether a lot of years so I think we just have that con­nec­tion. We know Con­nor’s go­ing to do his job, so we just keep each other pos­i­tive be­fore we go take the PKs.”

Hen­nessey also kicks for Wood’s foot­ball team and won PCL and state ti­tles last year but his main fall sport is soc­cer. So, get­ting his hands on the tro­phy Sun­day night just meant a lit­tle bit more to him.

“It’s prob­a­bly the best thing that’s hap­pened to me in my four years of high school,” Hen­nessey said.

Ju­nior de­fen­sive mid­fielder Ryan Mor­gan was also beam­ing Sun­day night after turn­ing in an­other ter­rific per­for­mance of his own. He and Shane Col­lier were an ex­tra wall of de­fense in front of the backs and Mor­gan was re­ally high-en­ergy, help­ing to win a lot of balls and chal­lenge Ro­man’s at­tack­ers fur­ther up the pitch.

Older sis­ter Erin won a PCL ti­tle as part of Wood’s girls’ bas­ket­ball team, so Ryan joked he could fi­nally hold up his own next to hers. Mor­gan cred­ited his im­pact play to the guys be­hind him con­stantly cov­er­ing his back.

“My team­mates, they’re kind of like my hype team, they al­ways en­cour­age me when I got up for head balls, they al­ways have my back and I know if I mess up, I’m not scared to make that mis­take be­cause my team­mates will back me up,” Mor­gan said. “We had to be just as phys­i­cal with them, we had to go body to body with them and do it 110 per­cent, oth­er­wise we weren’t go­ing to win.”

When it came to do the shootout, Ford was con­fi­dent. He was so sure that all his team­mates would bury their shots that all he felt he had to do was save one. The first team all-PCL keeper did one bet­ter, stuff­ing two of the three shots he faced, which al­lowed Chris­tian Petro to bury the game-win­ner.

“I just focus in, try to read their bod­ies and let my in­stincts go,” Ford said. “I’ve guessed right more time than not, so it’s been awe­some. My whole four years, this is all I’ve been work­ing for, all I’ve been wish­ing for, it was my goal the last four years and I’m so happy to have done it.”

Wood coach Hugh Kelly was an as­sis­tant in 2014, then took over as the head coach in 2015, so Sun­day was also his first PCL ti­tle lead­ing the Vik­ings. He knew the cur­rent class of se­niors had tal­ent when they came in as fresh­men and the ti­tle was the end of a long climb for both him and that class.

“We al­ways said if you’ll be com­mit­ted to us, we’ll be com­mit­ted to you,” Bara­noski said. “That’s been our re­la­tion­ship. We’ve been his team and it feels great to win it for him.”

The Vik­ings have won the last two District 12 3A ti­tles and will play for an­other this com­ing week, then they’ll try to get one game fur­ther off their PIAA semi­fi­nal fin­ish a year ago. There’s a cer­tain aura around a PCL ti­tle how­ever, and it’s a safe bet this one will just mean a lit­tle more.

“This team, we’re all go­ing to be friends 30 years from now,” Mor­gan said.

“We run in long cy­cles at Wood, we don’t get the big num­bers other schools do so we work with what we have,” Kelly said. “Maybe on pa­per we don’t have the tal­ent other teams do, but we try to play as a unit. It’s a very close-knit group, we be­lieve in our­selves and we proved it on the field tonight and that’s all I could ask for.”

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON/FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Arch­bishop Wood cel­e­brates its PCL cham­pi­onship on Sun­day.

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