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Jannelli makes the call that sends Springfield to states

SPRINGFIELD >> Andrew Astrino could sense the clock wasting away, could feel the pressure of a Pennsbury defender as he held possession in the box Saturday.

But above all, the midfielder could hear the pleas of Springfield teammate, Nick Jannelli.

“I heard Jannelli screaming,” Astrino said. “When he’s screaming, I know he wants the ball.”

The request granted, Jannelli produced a bit of magic.

The midfielder took a touch around a defender and blasted a shot into the back of the net, the game-winning goal with 10.4 seconds left to send 10-man Springfield into the District One quarterfinals and the PIAA tournament with a 2-1 victory over Pennsbury.

From his vantage point at the back, Ryan Straube witnessed it all transpire. He was the genesis of the unlikely buzzer-beater, courtesy of a slide tackle on a 50-50 ball 15 yards inside his own half.

The ball worked its way to Jannelli down the right channel, got deflected off a switch of fields to Steve Randolph on the left, and Randolph feathered a pass to Astrino on the left side of the box. Astrino, who displayed composure before firing the overtime game-winner in Thursday’s second-round banishment of Central Bucks West, brandished that patience again … until he heard the urgency in Jannelli’s voice.

“Kid’s the best player in the league, gave it to him and he put it away,” Astrino said. “Best play of my life.” “I just sat in the middle. I knew it was going to come back to the middle, for some reason,” Jannelli said. “… And right when Astrino started going, I just started trailing him. The center back went with him. The other guy came up, and I just touched around him, and it was an open net.”

Springfield's Andrew Astrino, left, celebrating Thursday with defender Ron Miller, score a goal and assisted on Nick Jannelli's game-winner in the Cougars' 2-1 win over Pennsbury in the District One Class AAA quarterfinals Saturday. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

Springfield’s Andrew Astrino, left, celebrating Thursday with defender Ron Miller, scored a goal and assisted on Nick Jannelli’s game-winner in the Cougars’ 2-1 victory over Pennsbury in the District One Class AAA quarterfinals Saturday. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

“That was in slow motion,” Straube said. “Every touch he took, it felt like it was a 10-second touch. It couldn’t go any slower.”

The triumph qualifies Springfield (15-3-2) for the PIAA Class AAA tournament, its first states berth since 1982. The Cougars will play No. 2 Conestoga, a 4-0 winner over No. 7 Abington in the District One semifinals Wednesday at a site and time to be determined. Pennsbury (14-5-2) is eliminated.

Springfield is the first boys team from Delaware County to qualify for the PIAA Class AAA tournament since Strath Haven in 2005.

Deliberate as it may have felt to Straube, Jannelli’s goal was a lightning-quick dispatching of Pennsbury that culminated a hectic final 17 minutes of a sensational game. That period featured all three goals, plus a red card to Justin Donnelly that emboldened an already rampant Pennsbury attack and seemingly should’ve handed the advantage to the Falcons.

Instead, the innate connection between Jannelli and Astrino surfaced at the perfect moment. The two have played together since age six on Springfield AA teams. Though their club paths diverged – Astrino to Rose Tree SC, Jannelli to Lower Merion SC – countless hours kicking around on at Halderman Field and four years of varsity crystallized in the biggest moments of their athletic careers.

“We know the chemistry’s there,” Astrino said. “Me and him knew we had to step up and have our best games of the season today, and we definitely did.”

Sixth-seeded Pennsbury enjoyed the better of play for most of the game, monopolizing possession and roundly outshooting the hosts, including a 10-5 margin in efforts on target and 5-0 on corner kicks.

But that mattered little when Springfield broke through in the 63rd minute, Astrino heading home. Pennsbury goalkeeper Anthony Rosso came for a Donnelly long throw but punched nothing but air. The ball caromed to Jannelli, who flicked a header into the six for Astrino to nod home before Rosso could scramble back to his line. Rather than bring order to proceedings, the goal set off a frenetic final quarter hour.

“It’s just a roller-coaster ride the entire game after that,” central defender Straube said. “I’m just glad we were able to keep composed there. It started with our goalkeeper and our center mid trio.”

Astrino’s goal tasked the Cougars with withstanding 17 minutes of Pennsbury pressure; they endured one second shy of five minutes. Off a pinpoint corner-kick delivery from Colin Marks, forward Zach Lobasso soared in and rose above the tangle of bodies to snap off a clean header that left Mike Gerzabek comprehensively beaten by the equalizer in the 68th.

That was Gerzabek’s only concession, though. He wasn’t forced into the spectacular like against CB West. But he battled a slippery, bumpy pitch that furnished several bad bounces on the way to nine saves. More important, he was assertive coming off his line time and again.

“It sucks. Their goalie was fantastic, and then they got the two they needed,” Lobasso said. “We had chances that we didn’t finish. We didn’t finish enough today.”

The tale took another twist when Donnelly saw red in the 75th minute for a high boot on Brad Edwards, a call that drew little argument from the defender or the Cougars bench. Pennsbury pushed for two late cracks at goal, including a corner and a Marks shot from distance that Gerzabek caught securely.

But the day belonged to Jannelli, the player who finished his final chance with aplomb against an opponent that did too little of that.

“It’s probably one of the biggest soccer accomplishments of my life,” Jannelli said. “From this school, we haven’t been known for soccer in 30 years. To finish a game like that and go to states, that’s like a dream. That’s like a movie.”

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