PHILADELPHIA >> Joe Baranoski chalked it up to fate.
As a Roman Catholic penalty kick clanged off the crossbar in the final minute of the second overtime Sunday night, the Wood senior defender knew fate was sending a message it was his team’s night. Sure, he and the rest of the defensive unit had been tremendous once again, but with a title on the line, Baranoski knew it would require something a little bit more.
Connor Ford came up clutch in a shootout for the second straight game and this time, it helped Wood earn the ultimate prize of a Philadelphia Catholic League title after the Vikings topped No. 1 seed Roman Catholic 4-1 in the shootout following a riveting 0-0 draw in double overtime.
“If I can be honest, when they pointed to the penalty spot, in my heart I didn’t think it was going to go in,” Baranoski said. “It happened, it hit the bar and I thought ‘it’s meant to be.’ Then we got the plaque. It was our night.”
Petro scores. Wood wins the PCL title pic.twitter.com/QZGJ0G9pQC
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) October 28, 2018
The 0-0 scoreline after 110 minutes does little to flatter the tempo, energy and physicality the two top teams in the Philadelphia Catholic League played with in front of a packed house at Northeast High School. Roman topped Wood 1-0 in the regular season in similar type of game, so both sides knew exactly what they were walking into.
Both of them were pretty hungry for a title as well. Roman sought its first hubcap since 2015 after coming up on the wrong end of the result to La Salle the last two years in the PCL final. Wood made its first championship appearance since winning the title in 2014, so none of the current players had hoisted their own.
Wood senior Koty Taylor, the relentless main cog in their attack, wore a cut under his right eye picked up after taking a boot to the face challenging for the ball as he explained what the title meant to him and his classmates.
“All four years, I’d never beaten Roman so it was a pretty cool experience finally getting past them on PKs but we knew it would be a hard game and everyone would be playing fast,” Taylor said. “We were definitely ready. This feels amazing, it’s the one thing I’ve wanted all four years.”
That neither one of the teams’ attacking units, two of the best in the PCL, couldn’t score is a testament to a resilient defensive effort from both ends. Roman keeper Kevin Tobin made four saves, including a superb denial of a point-blank rocket of a shot from Taylor and his backs, led by a sterling effort from Kieran Donnelly, contained Wood’s speed.
On the Vikings end, the veteran-laden defensive unit held their own dueling Roman’s twin tower forwards Jared Dillon and Eric Williams and the pace on the outsides from Kieran Boyle and Nick LoBiondo. Behind every great goalkeeper, or more accurately in front of every great goalkeeper, is a great back line and Ford again heaped as much credit as he could on his defenders — seniors Baranoski, Joe Trodden and Sean Kerchak and junior Matt Murphy.
“Every single one of them played amazing,” Ford said of his back line. “They’re all fantastic. They won every ball, blocked every shot, I didn’t have to do all that much.”
Kerchak, Murphy and Baranoski all blocked key shots while Trodden tussled with Dillon, Roman’s physical all-state, all-PCL forward for most of the evening. Throw in Ford, also a senior, and right back Baranoski said they can could probably play without talking, although they like hearing each other work through defensive stands.
“We communicated well, every time they came through we all said what man we had and playing with the guys for so long, you just know where they’re going to be,” Baranoski said. “If you just do your job, you’re going to be alright with this group. Connor talks to Joe, Joe is vocal to the outside and we work it all the way up the field.”
Ford, who’s been as cool as they come all postseason, admitted he was nervous when Roman was awarded the penalty kick with less than a minute left in the second overtime. Dillon, who drew the foul, stepped up to take it but put a little too much on the shot, hitting it off the bar as Ford went the wrong way.
“I got lucky it hit off the bar, but I respect him as a player and I hope he keeps his head high,” Ford said. “He’s had an outstanding season and he played an outstanding game tonight.”
While falling short of the PCL title for the third straight season was a tough pill for the seniors of Roman to take, Cahillites coach Ray Stephanis noted unlike the last two years, they aren’t done yet. Losing to La Salle the past two years ended Roman’s season, but as the last 4A team left in this year’s playoffs, the Cahillites move on to this week’s District 12 title game.
Plus, as DeStephanis noted, the only other time his team lost this season, it responded with a pretty long winning streak.
“I said be emotional, let it hurt but you have other chances, we ran six or seven wins off since that other loss, so there’s no reason we can’t do it again,” DeStephanis said. “It’s why we were the two best teams in the league this year and you knew it would come down to something like that at the end. We’ll give them some time off and I think it’ll be right back to work at practice on Tuesday.”
Wood senior Bob Hennessey is one of the Vikings’ baseball team’s better hitters but for a different reason, he is Ford’s favorite leadoff man. In both Sunday’s shootout and Wednesday’s shootout win over La Salle in the PCL semis, Hennessey started things with a made PK.
Ford then followed with saves on both opponents’ first shots.
“I think it’s just a connection,” Hennessey said. “We play on the same club team, we’ve played together a lot of years so I think we just have that connection. We know Connor’s going to do his job, so we just keep each other positive before we go take the PKs.”
Hennessey also kicks for Wood’s football team and won PCL and state titles last year but his main fall sport is soccer. So, getting his hands on the trophy Sunday night just meant a little bit more to him.
“It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to me in my four years of high school,” Hennessey said.
Junior defensive midfielder Ryan Morgan was also beaming Sunday night after turning in another terrific performance of his own. He and Shane Collier were an extra wall of defense in front of the backs and Morgan was really high-energy, helping to win a lot of balls and challenge Roman’s attackers further up the pitch.
Older sister Erin won a PCL title as part of Wood’s girls basketball team, so Ryan joked he could finally hold up his own next to hers. Morgan credited his impact play to the guys behind him constantly covering his back.
“My teammates, they’re kind of like my hype team, they always encourage me when I got up for head balls, they always have my back and I know if I mess up, I’m not scared to make that mistake because my teammates will back me up,” Morgan said. “We had to be just as physical with them, we had to go body to body with them and do it 110 percent, otherwise we weren’t going to win.”
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) October 29, 2018
When it came to do the shootout, Ford was confident. He was so sure that all his teammates would bury their shots that all he felt he had to do was save one. The first team all-PCL keeper did one better, stuffing two of the three shots he faced, which allowed Christian Petro to bury the game-winner.
“I just focus in, try to read their bodies and let my instincts go,” Ford said. “I’ve guessed right more time than not, so it’s been awesome. My whole four years, this is all I’ve been working for, all I’ve been wishing for, it was my goal the last four years and I’m so happy to have done it.”
Wood coach Hugh Kelly was an assistant in 2014, then took over as the head coach in 2015, so Sunday was also his first PCL title leading the Vikings. He knew the current class of seniors had talent when they came in as freshmen and the title was the end of a long climb for both him and that class.
“We always said if you’ll be committed to us, we’ll be committed to you,” Baranoski said. “That’s been our relationship. We’ve been his team and it feels great to win it for him.”
The Vikings have won the last two District 12-3A titles and will play for another this coming week, then they’ll try to get one game further off their PIAA semifinal finish a year ago. There’s a certain aura around a PCL title however, and it’s a safe bet this one will just mean a little more.
“This team, we’re all going to be friends 30 years from now,” Morgan said.
“We run in long cycles at Wood, we don’t get the big numbers other schools do so we work with what we have,” Kelly said. “Maybe on paper we don’t have the talent other teams do, but we try to play as a unit. It’s a very close-knit group, we believe in ourselves and we proved it on the field tonight and that’s all I could ask for.”
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 0, ROMAN CATHOLIC 0 (Wood wins 4-1 in PKs)
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 0 0 0 0 – 0 (4)
ROMAN CATHOLIC 0 0 0 0 – 0 (1)
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