LANSDALE >> Lansdale Catholic’s Joe Duffy really only had to break a sweat once during the first 70 minutes of Wednesday’s boys soccer playoff against Lower Moreland.
The senior, however, was plenty busy during the final 10 minutes of the District 1/12 Class 2A semifinal game. His ability to twice come through in the clutch proved to be the main reason the Crusaders clinched a PIAA playoff berth for the fifth consecutive year.
Protecting a tenuous one-goal lead, Duffy first made a diving save on a penalty kick from Lower Moreland’s Bennet Durand. About a minute later, he got his fingertips on a point-blank shot from the Lions’ Zach Firko, deflecting it against the right goalpost.
LC’s defense then cleared the ball out of harm’s way, and the Crusaders held on for a 1-0 victory. They play for the regional title Saturday at Central Bucks West (time to be announced) against either New Hope-Solebury or Philadelphia Academy Charter.
“When your team plays great defense in front of you, it’s awesome to not have to be involved a lot,” Duffy said. “Toward the end, they still played awesome defense, but the wet field got to them a little bit. (Lower Moreland) got a couple of shots off, and I was there to make the saves.”
Earlier, when the game was still scoreless with about 20 minutes to play, Duffy protected the LC shutout by tipping a hard shot from the Lions’ David Skiendzielewski over the crossbar.
LC’s offense, despite buzzing around the Lower Moreland goal for much of the second half, had little to show for its solid effort. The Crusaders (9-9-4 overall) finally broke through with just 12:30 left in regulation, when the Lions couldn’t clear a long ball from LC defender Dan White.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” Lower Moreland coach Robert Barnhart said. “Their goalie made some really big saves to keep them in the lead late.
“All you can ask for in a game like this is, when you’re playing in wet conditions, to get some shots on the frame and give yourself chances to finish. We had chances to finish; we had a bunch of chances late to tie it up and send it to overtime, but today it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Lower Moreland (9-9-2) was bidding for its second straight PIAA playoff berth, and the Lions certainly had their moments in Wednesday’s game. However, they frequently had problems keeping their footing on the wet grass, particularly in the first half, and they will no doubt lament giving up the game’s lone goal on what initially appeared would be an innocuous play.
“Dan White played a great ball in,” LC midfielder Matt McDonald said. “I saw (forward) Chris (Edling) running that way. I knew he was going to get to it, but I didn’t want to touch it and get it away from him, so I just tried to distract the defender. Luckily, it worked out.”
McDonald played a key role just a couple of minutes later, too, when Lower Moreland was awarded a penalty kick after Bryce Horn was taken down in the penalty area. The Lions called on Durand to attempt the PK, and Duffy said McDonald came to him with some quick advice.
“A lot of it is guessing (on a PK), but I had my buddy Matt tell me where to go,” Duffy said. “He knew where (Durand) was going to go, so that’s how it happens.”
LC first-year coach Bill James said Duffy has had a knack for making big saves this year.
“I’m so proud of him for standing on his head like that, making a big-time PK save,” James said. “Then, they come right back at him, and he deflects another big shot off the crossbar.
“It’s been common for him. The second half of the season, his play has skyrocketed, and it’s really helped us as a team. Without him, I don’t know where we’d be sitting right now.”
The win extended LC’s season at least another two games. Lower Moreland’s campaign came to an end with the team falling just short of its goal to return to states. Still, Barnhart said the Lions’ year can be categorized as nothing less than a success.
“At the high school level, you always have turnover with seniors graduating and juniors hoping to get meaningful minutes,” Barnhart said. “We came up short, and it’s unfortunate for us, for the seniors who weren’t able to get back to where they were last year.
“But, I’ll tell you what: I’m proud of every single one of these guys.”