PHILADELPHIA >> Selfishness isn’t Nick Jannelli’s default setting, even as his season goal total creeps into the 20s and his career mark heads for the half-century mark.
That’s why the most popular song played by the Springfield bench is exhorting the senior to keep shooting.
Tuesday night, Jannelli only needed to be told once what to do in the final third.
Jannelli scored on either side of halftime, steering the Cougars to a 2-0 win over Northeast High School in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA Tournament at the South Philadelphia Super Site.
Jannelli blasted a shot into the top corner off a Steve Randolph cross in the 23rd minute, then did it all by his lonesome four minutes from time, a mazy run that ended with threading a shot far post to seal Springfield’s first state win since 1981.
The win sends the Cougars (16-5-2), the No. 4 seed from District One, to Saturday’s quarterfinals. They’ll meet District 7 runner up Fox Chapel, which drew District 3’s Central York, 2-2, and advanced on PKs, 4-3. The site and time is to be determined.
Two second-half moments perfectly encapsulated Jannelli as a player, and their results didn’t exactly follow the logic.
In the 61st minute, Jannelli danced through the Vikings defense, leaving a wake of five felled defenders. With a look at goal, he opted to dink a pass across to the right channel to Andrew Astrino, who had just goalie Max Dossou, scurrying across the face of goal, to beat. Astrino picked the far post that Dossou was vacating but one-timed it agonizingly wide.
Fifteen minutes later, Jannelli’s decision was just as clear. He and forward Justin Eckard overloaded the backline, and a touch around an ill-timed challenge sent Jannelli in behind for a 2-on-1. Jannelli’s choice then was just as decisive, though not subject to his teammates’ finishing whims: A drive that tickled the far-side netting, as Jannelli stood bolt straight and waited teammates to mob him.
“I picked my head up. I saw (Eckard), and I saw the defender cutting off the path,” Jannelli said. “I looked at the goalie and he was closer to the near post, so I saw the far post and I just put it there.”
Despite the virtuosity displayed by Jannelli, the root of his creativity was the key nuggets of the scouting report. He and Astrino exploited Northeast’s lone holding midfielder, Mohamed Elgayar, by pushing the manpower advantage in the center of the park. That’s how Jannelli found pockets of space to shoot often, and how Astrino hopped forward with the second-half kickoff and curled a shot inches wide 15 seconds in. As the Cougars nursed their 1-0 lead, Jannelli pushed higher, maintaining pressure on the Northeast backline knowing that the slightest of slipups on the rainy turf could double the lead.
On the opener, Jannelli read the Vikings’ tendency to ball-watch on crosses. So when Randolph got the ball on the right wing and sighted Jannelli lurking far post, he floated a cross as Jannelli created space and rocketed one home.
Jannelli, who has 23 goals this season and 48 for his illustrious career, scored the last-minute game-winner to send Springfield to states 10 days ago. He relishes the pressure of such moments.
“I love it. Being able to take a leadership role on this team is a big thing,” Jannelli said. “So I really value that and look to set an example for my team. Performances like that, that was a team effort. I was just helping with that.”
“It’s really nice to have a player like him on our team,” midfielder Mike Wallace said. “When we have the ball, we always know that we have somewhere that we want to go with it. We always want to try to find him and work off of him.”
As they have most of the season, the Cougars tailored their defense to the Vikings’ specific threat. Wallace freelanced as a stopper while the defense man-marked Northeast’s main threats, Adin Hernandez and Phedel Saye. Hernandez, who scored both goals in the Public League championship win and once against Roman Catholic to book the Pub’s first trip to Class AAA states, was held mostly in check, a fraction of his usual danger.
Altering strategies at the end of the season isn’t tough for a Springfield team forced to do so by myriad injuries and illnesses early on.
“We have some good, dynamic players that can play whatever the coaches tell them to do,” Wallace said. “And that helps us adapt to other teams.”
Goalie Mike Gerzabek made four saves on the night, few of much difficulty. Springfield shook off a few chaotic sequences midway through the second half, with Northeast streaming forward with the wind at its back.
Charles Afful pleaded for a handball that fell on deaf ears with 18 to play. Wallace and Ryan Straube provided a few key clearances from danger. Gerzabek caught a weak but wide open header from Amro Elbehiry with 11 minutes to play, and Wallace produced a big block of an Afful shot with nine left.
But Jannelli’s moments of brilliance ultimately carried the day. And they’ll bring Springfield deeper into a season than they’ve traveled in a generations.
“It’s awesome,” Jannelli said. “Just game after game, we’re making more history. The first states win in 30-something years, it’s just another milestone for us. And hopefully we’ll keep moving forward and get another one.”
Final seconds and celebration. 2-0, Springfield tops Northeast https://t.co/vyZthAjdJN
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) November 11, 2015
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