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Donnelly, Roman Catholic play as one to hold off Archbishop Wood in PCL semifinals

BENSALEM >> Kieran Donnelly couldn’t hold back a laugh as he talked about how much time he and his Roman Catholic boys soccer teammates spend together.

Yet, even it’s bordering on unhealthy, there’s no doubt all that time as a group has aided the Cahillites on the field. Wednesday night, tasked with trying to defeat Archbishop Wood in their PCL semifinal, Donnelly and Roman had to rely on that cohesion to get the job done.

Donnelly provided the goal, but the whole team was responsible for the outcome as No. 3 Roman edged No. 5 Wood 1-0 at Trifecta Sporting Club.

“It comes down to making in-game decisions as a team and having the integrity to execute it as a team,” Donnelly said. “In a high-intense game like that, and following a big play like that (the goal), you really have to come together as a team to finish it off.

“We’re a family, really our whole program. We spent way too much time with each other the past four or five months, and most of us knew each other before high school so it means that much more when we win a game.”

The game, a rematch of last year’s PCL final won by Wood, was the second 1-0 decision the sides had played to this fall. From the start, it felt like a night where one goal would win it and both teams’ defensive units stood tall and the midfield slogged into a battleground.

Wood’s engine is in the middle with Shane Collier and Ryan Morgan, so the Cahillites center mids had a tough task in front of them. Again, it wasn’t a matter of anyone overstepping their role, but the group playing well together that helped even the odds for Roman.

“Everybody was working hard in the middle and trying to get our guys up top some balls through,” Roman junior midfielder Jimmy Tobin said. “We weren’t putting them away, but once we got that head ball in, it just pushed us through. It’s really a team thing, everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing and once you start working together, it becomes a lot easier.”

Chances were sparse for both teams in the first half, with each recording just one shot on goal. Wood did draw four corner kicks, but the Roman defense did well to defend them and the sides retreated to the break tied 0-0 and seeking a breakthrough.

Wood’s defensive group, largely a new crop after last year’s title run, had its share of ups and downs this fall. Senior Matt Murphy missed a chunk of time with a foot injury, but since his return, the group has been playing solid and they kept it up on Wednesday.

“We gave everything we had, we just couldn’t put a goal in the back of the net,” sophomore defender Dom Petruzzelli said. “We lost a man on the corner, it happens, but we definitely fought to the end. Now we know we can compete at the next level, this is a young team, I wouldn’t call it a rebuilding year because we got to the semifinals, and we bring a lot of people back so we want to be here again next year.”

Set pieces rule postseason scoring, and in a game like Wednesday’s, proved to be the difference. Early in the second half, Roman earned a corner, putting two players at the flag prior to the service.

Joe Lodise served as the decoy while senior Sebastian Gonzalez hit the ball in, finding Donnelly right in front of goal. Having slipped his mark, the senior co-captain nodded the ball over the line and in 11 minutes into the half.

“It was due to communication between me and a few of the other guys switching up our runs,” Donnelly said. “Somebody went middle, one guy went near post and I went back post, just trying to lose our man and the ball played in by Sebastian, credit to him for the great ball, I just happened to be the lucky guy right there and hit it in.”

After the goal, Roman played exceptional team defense, with the forwards back to Kevin Tobin in goal committing to the job of protecting their lead. The Cahillities did look for a second goal, but the bulk of their effort was put into winning the ball as much as possible and keeping Wood away from the 18-yard box.

Kevin Tobin, the senior keeper, only made three saves but had a superb diving stop on Wood defender Lou Daniele shortly after the goal. Tobin also played a good game controlling the box and was responsible for diffusing several of Wood’s six corners before they developed into anything.

Gonzalez, Jimmy Tobin, Kevin Davis and Josh Phillips also helped push the midfield effort along in aiding the back line for Roman.

“The chemistry is already there, we get along so well and it’s easy to talk to each other in the middle,” Jimmy Tobin said. “It’s all about putting in the effort to get back and keep your team in it.”

Wood’s season isn’t over and the Vikings will play for the District 12-3A title next week before moving on to the state tournament. The players were all dejected at Wednesday’s loss, with several needing a couple moments to leave the field but they put in the kind of effort that spells success more often than not.

“Our crowd was amazing tonight, shout-out to Wood for the white out,” Petruzzelli said. “They put a ball in the back of the net and we didn’t, they’re a good team and I wish them luck in the championship. I think we’re going to play with a chip on our shoulder from here out and look to hit the ground running.”

Roman, which is in its sixth straight final, will meet a familiar foe in top-seeded La Salle, a 4-3 winner over Archbishop Ryan. La Salle won back-to-back titles against Roman in 2016 and 2017 before Wood won last year, so the Cahillities senior class is looking to buck the trend in their last chance at a hubcap.

“We’ve been there and lost and it pushes everybody on the team to try a little harder, run a little faster,” Donnelly said. “As the stakes got higher and it got more real for us, we stepped the level up. It means everything to me, especially because I’ve been fruitless in my last three attempts at a Catholic League title. I get a fourth chance and hopefully I can help us bring it home.”

Goals: RC – Kieran Donnelly (Sebastian Gonzalez)



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