Jannelli makes another special delivery for Springfield

CHAMBERSBURG >> Springfield coach Jason Piombino is at a loss for words in describing the last few weeks. He’s seen his Cougars qualify for the program’s first state tournament in 34 years, witnessed a states win last Tuesday.

And all the while, Piombino has been waiting for the call from his wife. The call.

Saturday night, Piombino got a little more good news to share with his growing family, thanks to Nick Jannelli.

Jannelli did the starting and finishing 11 minutes into the second half, sending the Cougars over District 7 runner-up Fox Chapel, 2-1, in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAA Tournament at Chambersburg Area High School.

Springfield (17-3-2) advances to Tuesday’s semifinal against Seneca Valley, the third seed from District 7, which tipped District 7 champ Canon-MacMillan, 1-0, Saturday. Site and time is to be determined.

Thursday night, Piombino and his wife Jessica welcomed their second child, Carina Sadie. The hours since have been a blur of hospital stays, a brief practice Friday evening, then helping mother and daughter get situated at home Saturday morning before jetting to Chambersburg.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Piombino said.

That’s about how the Foxes defense described Jannelli Saturday. The star midfielder did the heavy lifting on the first goal, playing a smart 1-2 in the middle with reserve forward Benny Gast. Jannelli sent a swerving shot from 25 yards that Fox Chapel goalie Jacob Dunn could only chest away. Gast was following the play, though, and calmly side-footed the rebound into the net in the 29th minute.

“I think that I started running pretty late,” said Gast, whose holdup play provided an important spark. “I knew Jannelli was going to shoot, and then right after he shot, I ran to the keeper because we knew he was a sophomore. And then the ball just bounced back, and I don’t know what happened. I just put the ball in the goal.”

The second tally was a masterclass from Jannelli. He latched onto a ball down the right wing after Mitch Masi did well to keep a spinning ball in and feathered a pass down the line. Jannelli took a touch inside and blasted a shot from the right channel that Dunn fought off. The rebound hopped over Andrew Astrino, who couldn’t apply the brakes quickly enough down the left channel, but found … you guessed it, Jannelli, who hustled over to blast a shot that nicked off Fox Chapel defender Kota Furuhata and in.

“I didn’t even see where the goal was; I just figured the far post was open,” Jannelli said. “So I curled it, he saved it. I saw Astrino coming up and I went behind him. I’ve been in that position a lot of times coming off rebounds. Usually I take a touch, but then the defender would come out to me. So I just figured I’d hit it first time.”

From that 51st minute strike, the Cougars’ task was to hold off Fox Chapel’s waves of pressure for 29 minutes. They’d failed at that in the first half, as Springfield defender Justin Donnelly and Fox Chapel’s Nathan Wecht got tangled up in the box with 11 seconds left, the referee pointing to the spot. Jung Hong stepped up, looked off goalie Mike Gerzabek and buried his PK down the middle to equalize on the stroke of halftime.

Though that was a devastating end to the half, the Cougars at least got a chance to circle the wagons.

“We were down at halftime because of the goal, but we regrouped,” Gerzabek said. “We got our heads together and came out firing in the second half.”

Gerzabek was outstanding with seven saves, but he got plenty of help. His best stop came in the first half, at full extension to his right to deny a point-blank look by Alex Marotte five minutes before Gast’s opener.

In the second half, Fox Chapel warmed to the game, deciphering the man-marking system Springfield employed to keep them off-balance.  

“I just tried playing. I tried getting through it,” wing forward Michael Snowball said, adding that it’s the first man-marking team the Foxes have encountered this year. “I went back into attacking mid just to get away from it real quick. I moved back up, kept working with my teammates and tried to get around it.”

It was one-way traffic for the last half-hour of the match. Gerzabek had to stop a couple of curling left-footed drives from Snowball’s left wing. On the eighth and final Fox Chapel corner, Furuhata looped a header that went over a mass of humanity in the six-yard box and clanged the far post before Ronnie Miller cleared the danger on the ensuing scrum.

Furuhata also airmailed a shot off a scramble in the box, and Hong rattled the crossbar from 35 yards with three minutes left, a spot that Gerzabek patted with gratitude after the post-match dogpile.

“By now, we’re really used to it,” Jannelli said of the desperate defending. “All of our games are nail-biters. Our defense holds it down a lot. We’ve got a lot of experienced guys back there.”

Seeing out the final few nervy minutes means the journey doesn’t have to end for Gerzabek, Jannelli and the other eight senior starters who have pushed Springfield as close to a state title as they’ve ever been.

“It’s a big deal,” Gerzabek said. “We’ve been playing together since God knows when, probably when we all started playing soccer at the (Springfield Athletic Association) League. To make it this far senior year is incredible.”

“Every win at this point is huge,” Jannelli said. “Every game is an adventure. We had no idea that we’d make it this far, but I think at this point, we all go out on the field confident we can win every time. It’s awesome.”

In the Inter-Ac League

Haverford School 2, Episcopal Academy 0 >> The Fords won the Inter-Ac title outright, to run their championship string to four years. Haverford School is the first team to win four consecutive Inter-Ac championships since Chestnut Hill Academy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Connor Gregory converted a pass from Jerry Karalis to give the Fords a 1-0 lead. Alec Haas made it 2-0. The defense and goalie Will Baltrus (two saves) made that lead stand up.

A.J. Marcucci made eight saves in goal for the Churchmen.  

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