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Motivated Roman Catholic tops St. Joseph’s Prep, returns to PCL title game

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PHILADELPHIA >> The feeling was all the motivation Roman Catholic senior Eric Williams needed during the season.

After losing in the Philadelphia Catholic League championship each of the last two years, the only way Williams and his teammates could make up for that feeling would be to win it this year. To do that, the top-seeded Cahillities had to get back to the championship.

A couple of second-chance goals, a well-hit free kick and stout defending added up to a 3-0 win over No. 4 St Joseph’s Prep Wednesday night at Archbishop Ryan.

“It means a lot, we have a chance to try and win it and make it two in four years,” Williams said. “Losing it again last year, it just makes you want to get back and win it.”

Roman advances to its fifth-straight PCL final, where it will face No. 2 seed Archbishop Wood at 4 p.m. Sunday from Northeast High.

From the opening whistle Wednesday, the Cahillites were aggressive and physical. Roman, which lost just once during PCL regular season play, has thrived off a consistent defense and an attacking unit that loves to apply pressure.

Midway through the first half, that pressure paid off. Nick LoBiondo fired a shot that Prep keeper Aiden Hartley saved, but Williams was right there in the box to clean up the rebound and slam it home.

“We moved the ball well as a team,” senior defender Mark Iannacone said. “We were really positive and talking as a group and did well defensively.”

Roman took a big step to commanding the game with 16:45 left in the opening half. A foul gave the Cahillites a free kick about 20 yards out. Jared Dillon and Kyle Davis stood over the ball and discussed their options as the Prep wall formed and Roman attackers found spaces.

It seemed logical that Dillon, the recently named first-team All-PCL and all-state forward, would take it, but he didn’t. Instead, Davis stepped in and ripped a gorgeous shot that barely dinged the crossbar as it clanged the back of Ryan’s chain-link goal.

“We’ve worked on that in practice, it’s my strong side and I was feeling the wind,” Davis, a junior, said. “I had a feeling I was going to bury it.”

Iannacone capped the scoring for Roman in the second half a shade more than 10 minutes into the frame. An initial shot clattered off the Prep crossbar, then got booted around the box until it was hit out on a short clearance.

The ball didn’t get very far as the third team All-PCL defender sent in a laser from 20 yards out that slammed into the back of the goal.

From there, it was all about the defending.

“Our communication was really good,” junior goalkeeper Kevin Tobin said. “We were talking to each other about who to mark up and we stopped all their through balls.”

Tobin didn’t to make many saves, but he had two big ones against St Joe’s Prep forward Kane Ritchie about 30 seconds apart late in the second half. Roman, which has plenty of depth, also has a nice luxury in being able to drop guys like Dillon and Williams back into defense to support the back line led by Iannacone and Kieran Donnelly.

Roman edged Wood 1-0 in the regular season and Iannacone and Tobin said they’ll have to be sharper Sunday afternoon than they were on Wednesday. Tobin said Wood’s speed up top is definitely a factor with Iannacone and Davis adding that they’ll have to defend as a team as they’ve done all season.

The win on Wednesday also qualifies Roman for the District 12-4A title game next week, but the Cahillites’ focus is squarely on winning a hubcap trophy Sunday afternoon.

“I’m just glad to be back with a team that has my back on every play the way I try to have theirs,” Davis said. “I think all of us are happy to be back again and get another chance at a title.”

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