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New cast achieves same result for La Salle

PHILADELPHIA >> The result was the same, but the team that accomplished it was much different.

La Salle’s boys’ soccer team swarmed into the net at Northeast High, clustering around the PCL trophy as they each held up two fingers to celebrate their second straight title. For a handful of Explorers, like keeper Brett Werner and defenders Joseph Brigidi and Cole Hammel, it was their second title as starters.

For many others, this was the PCL title they won as key pieces to the season-long puzzle.

“Last year was great, but the fact I didn’t start, I wanted my own PCL title,” senior midfielder Gio Randazzo said. “Coming out here, I wanted it so much more than last year.”

This year’s Explorers team didn’t have the same kind of offensive pop as last year’s squad, though in fairness, that’s a lot to ask of a team that lost players like Spencer Patton, Zach Hogan and Mike D’Angelo. Instead, this year’s team did it with a mentality of “grind it out.”

They may not be the prettiest team, but few work harder. While the Explorers like their grinder approach, they can play the game too. La Salle’s back line, anchored by Brigidi and Hammel, is adept at not only winning the ball, but playing with it at their feet and acting as a pivot point.

It’s a newer group, but one that was as equally committed to the cause as last season’s.

“We’ve had guys who missed last season due to injuries who wanted this bad and had guys that didn’t want to be the next team out who didn’t get the job done,” La Salle coach Tom McCaffrey said. “They took that to heart and did the job they needed to do. Every day they put their own stamp on it. This is definitely a different team than last year. The way we play, the way we compete is similar but they did it their way.”

A soccer team is only as good as the sum of its parts. Whether it was returning players like Werner or Brigidi, role players stepping into a bigger spot like Randazzo or guys new to the team like senior Jacob Mittman, La Salle spent the season building itself into a brotherhood.

Mittman helped mitigate some of the graduations and he delivered the game-winning goal on Monday. A former academy player, he wanted to spend his senior year playing for his school.

“We worked hard in preseason and made 26 varsity players believe,” Mittman said. “From there, we just worked through everything, all the bumps and bruises. I’m glad I was able to win a PCL championship with my team.”

La Salle put together a solid attack, with junior winger Chris Metzler moving from super-sub last year to go-to threat, to match it’s stout defense. For other players, this season marked not only their first year starting, but their first chance to make a mark at the varsity level.

One of those guys is senior center back Bobby Bohner. Bohner, who saved the team’s season with his dramatic goal-line clearance in overtime of the semifinal against St. Joe’s Prep, didn’t see the field in the postseason last year and started every game so far this fall.

“We don’t play some beautiful, beautiful soccer, we get after guys, press them and run at them and that’s how we get it done,” Bohner said. “I don’t think I saw the field in the playoffs last year so this was a big year with a lot of question marks for me. Could I step up? Could (fullback Chris) Marzullo and a lot of other guys who hadn’t seen much playing time step up? I think we all really embraced that role. It’s very meaningful to have the experience to play for such a great program and a great coach.”

As the team huddled before leaving the field, McCaffrey shared a telling statistic. In the last two years, the Explorers were unbeaten in 28 Catholic League games, and while there are a few draws in there, it’s still impressive to not drop a result in a league like the PCL.

“We just have guys who work hard and get the job done,” Bohner said. “We’ve come really far this year, we had moments where we were not amazing this year but also some games where we came from behind, grinded it out. We said we’ve come this far, haven’t lost a game in two years in this league and we’re not about to lose one now.”

Even for Brigidi, who started the last two seasons and served as a co-captain with Werner and Hammel this year, Monday’s win was still a special accomplishment.

“It means the world to me,” Brigidi said. “I’m not playing in college, so these are some of my last games and it’s just such a great ending. Winning a game 1-0, it’s not always the most exciting, but it’s very comforting to put up a goose egg in the final and shutting out a great team like Roman, it’s a great feeling.”

Werner said McCaffrey is as much a part of the team’s success as the changing roster of players.

“He’s always been about preparing for every single game the same way,” Werner said. “He did a really good job of that and keeping our heads on straight. He guided us on the right path.”

La Salle was jubilant on Monday, but come Tuesday afternoon, it’s right back to work. Northeast awaits in the District 12 4A title game, with states coming next week and this batch of Explorers doesn’t want the PCL wheel to be it’s only trophy this fall.

“Tomorrow, it’s right back to business,” Randazzo said. “It was great, a memory, but we have to put it aside. There’s still more left in this season and we have to go out and take on Northeast and whoever else may come our way.”

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