EMMAUS >> The first round of states, especially for a team without the experience, can be a daunting proposition.
Such was the case for Bishop McDevitt as it took the road up to Emmaus to face District 11 champion and defending state champs Moravian Academy and its loaded roster. The Lancers played hard and tough and stuck with the Lions for a half and then some.
But guts can only get a team so far.
Moravian overwhelmed the Royal Lancers in the second half and claimed a 5-1 win in the first round of the PIAA Class A boys soccer tournament Wednesday night. McDevitt played the Lions to a tie for 53 minutes, an admirable accomplishment in their first-ever state appearance.
“We went toe-to-toe with the defending state champs for about 60 minutes, can’t really say much else about that,” McDevitt coach AJ Heintz said. “I looked at their lineup before the game and they had 14 seniors. We have 18 kids in our program, total.
“We’re a small school with a small team and they have nothing to be ashamed of. I told them all that, they have everything in the world to be proud of.”
McDevitt was up for the game, but Moravian brought an onslaught of pressure from the outset of the game. Bigger, stronger, deeper and faster, the Lions came after the Royal Lancers, trying to purely outrun the defenders or play balls over the back line.
While McDevitt’s backs did all they could to contain the runs and force Moravian attackers outside, the Lions still generated a fair number of chances. Senior goalkeeper Alex Wilson was continually up for the challenge however.
Wilson, who earned Eagle Scout status over the weekend, made five saves in the first half, including a couple of point-blank efforts. He also shook off a collision with a Moravian player late in the half.
“The last couple of games Alex has stepped up,” Heintz said. “We talked to him about coming out, getting the ball and not letting up free shots. He made a couple of incredible reaction saves, kept us in the game and kept It from getting uglier than it could have been.”
Moravian’s best early chance came from Jack Painter, who forced Wilson into a sprawling save and rebound that Painter could only strike into the wrong side of the net. Painter wouldn’t stay scoreless for long though, and finally solved Wilson on a through ball by Phil Astolfi with 31:43 left in the first half.
The first half was as much track meet as it was soccer game with both sides flying up and down the field. McDevitt wasn’t rattled by giving up the goal and kept pressing.
With a bit more than two and a half minutes left in the half, the Lancers won a free kick at midfield. The delivery was low and skipped across the fast-playing turf right into the hands of the Moravian keeper. However, disaster struck for the Lions when he lost his handle and fortune struck for McDevitt when Luke Melzinger crashed and hit it in to tie the game at 1-1.
“We just came up to play,” Heintz said. “It’s a cherry on top of the season. It was a long season for us. We won the (District 12) championship and that was our goal.”
Moravian’s aggressiveness got the better of it to start the second half of play as it was tagged offside twice in the first three minutes. The Lions kept it up though and drew a couple of corner kicks inside the first 10 minutes of the half, but McDevitt’s defense kept clearing the threats out.
The Lions finally converted one of their long balls thanks to a howitzer of a kick by Tanner Shane. Shane dropped one in to Painter from the back third of the field and Painter did the rest. Wilson actually got down and blocked the shot, but the ball shot up off of him, hit the bar and into the back of the net.
That was the start of a rough minute for McDevitt. A late foul at the very edge of the box gave Moravian a free kick and Painter stepped up to hit it. The forward’s strike was perfectly placed, giving him a hat trick and Moravian a 3-1 lead with 26:03 to go.
Even with the circumstances, the Lancers’ fortitude didn’t waver and Wilson came up with a diving save to deny KJ Ellis a few minutes later. But a team like Moravian doesn’t stop coming and the Lions wouldn’t stay quiet for long.
With 19:53 left, Nic Lozano headed in a service by Shane and scored again 1:20 later when he collected a rebound off of Wilson and struck it past the helpless keeper.
McDevitt played out the remainder of its season continuing to press for another score. Wilson ended his high school career with a 10-save night and the five allowed goals weren’t indicative of his effort in net.
The Lancers dropped from Class AA to A this season and managed to win the District 12 title in Heintz’s third year at the helm. They’re hoping this was just the first of multiple state playoff appearances.
“We won the districts and got into states, that’s going to help us with extra games against different opponents and better opponents,” Heintz said. “It’s all good things. It’s only going to help the program grow from here.”
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