Dominant second half sends Unionville to state playoffs

EAST MARLBOROUGH – It took 17 tries, but Unionville head coach Rich Garber finally defeated Conestoga.

What made it more special was that it came in District 1 Class AAA playoffs.

Behind goals from Peter Ferraro, Jeff Stautberg, and Sam Alfonsi, No. 1 Unionville shutout No. 9 Conestoga 3-0 to advance to the District 1 Class AAA semifinals and a spot in the state playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

The Indians will face No. 4 Central Bucks East, a 2-1 winner over Plymouth-Whitemarsh, in the district semifinals Thursday, 5 p.m. at a site to be determined.

“Conestoga is a great team, I knew it was going to be a battle that we had to work for,’ Garber said. “We haven’t been to the states since 2009, these kids worked so hard and for them to accomplish something like this is amazing.’

Unionville got on the board 17 minutes into the game. Junior midfielder Peter Ferraro got behind the defense and saw that Conestoga goalie Will Smith was coming out of his net to try and cut him off.

Ferraro chipped it right over his head and the ball found the middle of the net. The large crowd on hand at Unionville erupted in cheers and the Indians had the early momentum.

“It was so huge because the momentum really builds off whoever scores first,’ Ferraro mentioned. “The last time we played these guys it was 0-0 and it was really tough to score. Once we got this first goal tonight we were really confident because we knew we could hold them defensively.’

The first half ended 1-0 with few chances on both sides but the goalies stood tall while the possession was about 50-50. If fans did not get back to their seats quickly after halftime they might have missed a Unionville avalanche.

Within the first minute of play in the second half, the Indians blitzed the Pioneers for two goals in record time.

The first one came off the right foot of Stautberg, who buried it in the right corner of the net for what seemed at the time a back-breaking goal.

Only 1:05 later, Alfonsi tallied a goal for himself and all of a sudden Unionville had a commanding 3-0 lead; only 38 minutes away from a state playoff birth; the crowd was in a frenzy.

“To come out in the second half and go bang-bang it really relaxed our players,’ Garber said. “There was a lot of time left though so I had to keep reminding the guys to stay focused and keep the pressure on.’

Anytime a team has a three goal lead it is only human nature to rein it in a little bit and play more conservative game and that is kind of what happened. The field shifted into Conestoga’s favor and they started to rip some shots on goal. Chris Ward and Matt Marcelli both had great chances in the box but Unionville’s rock solid senior goalie Henry Shafer denied them at the net. He made save after save to keep the Pioneers off the board; totaling 11 saves on the night.

“A lot of times it’s just not me working back there,’ Shafer said. “My back line is really solid in the air, a lot of it is positioning and Brian Cortese is a rock, he always has my back when the ball’s in the air. I know if I can’t knock it down, he’s always right there, it’s great to have that confidence behind you.’

Shafer is committed to go to Colgate and is going to be an instrumental piece if Unionville wants to keep this run going. Conestoga did not let up and kept pressing the issue looking for that first goal that would have given them a lot of momentum.

“I thought we played well,’ Conestoga head coach Dave Zimmerman said. “The three goals we let in were bad plays obviously with defensive lapses but we really did not give up many more chances. We got a ton of chances but we just could not finish. I was proud of the effort, they definitely did not give up, Unionville was just the better team tonight,’ Zimmerman added.

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