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La Salle reaches PIAA-4A semifinals with shutout win over Lower Merion

WORCESTER >> Brandon Curran was denied on one good chance but the La Salle junior forward was confident he was due for a goal on a cold Saturday night.

“In the first half, they had a complete goal-line clearance. I had a perfect shot, on the ground — goal-line clearance,”  he said. “So in my head, I’m like, ‘I’m going to get it back, it’s going to happen,’”

It took until the 78th minute, but Curran got his goal for the Explorers’ in their PIAA-4A quarterfinal against Lower Merion. With the contest still scoreless, Curran got a foot to a loose ball in the 18-yard box and popped it into the top of the net with 12:38 remaining in regulation.

“While the ball was up in the air, our holder Sean Jennings went up with the keeper and no one came down with it,” Curran said. “Dropped to my feet and inside the six, just put it in the goal.”

Curran added an assist as La Salle scored in the final minute to seal a 2-0 victory over the Aces at Methacton High School and advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 2012.

“I think Brandon’s done that all year,” Explorers coach Tom McCaffery said. “He’s found himself in really advantageous positions and found a way to get one by. We did the same thing against Dallastown on Tuesday afternoon. To me, he’s just a natural, good goal scorer who finds his nose around the goal. And five goals in two matches in the state playoffs is nothing to laugh at. So he’s put together a really nice tournament.”

Seth Michalak scored with 17.1 seconds left as La Salle moves on to face District 1 champ North Penn — which edged Conestoga 2-1 in overtime — Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. La Salle and North Penn met Sept. 21 with the Knights claiming a 2-0 victory.

“A lot of the kids on La Salle play with them on club so we know the kids from around,” said Curran, who had all four Explorer goals in their PIAA first-round win over Dallastown. “And they’re solid. They’re a very good team all around. They move the ball really quickly just like (Lower Merion) do today. They have speed, they have size, it’s going to be a really good game.”

Lower Merion, which finished third in the District 1 tournament to qualify for states for the first time since 2010, created its best scoring possibilities on long throw-ins from Jonathan Mosenco as the Aces attack was thwarted most of the night by an Explorer backline led by Ben Herron and Vito Leone.

“I think it was very good game against two very good opponents,” Lower Merion coach Nico Severini said. “And they were able to find a way to put one in the back of the net. We had our chances a well and couldn’t quite capitalize. But it was a defensive (game), two teams playing very strong defense and very little chances in the game. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.”

The Aces’ best scoring opportunity off a throw-in came in the 58th minute as Owen Downey sent a header behind him towards the goal. The effort, however, was blocked and sent upwards with the clearance going out to Lower Merion’s Evan Goodman, who hit his shot  over the net.

“We had to withstand their pace early,” McCaffery said. “I think the whole first half they put us under a tremendous amount of pressure. There was a couple times I got a little worried, there was a couple times with the big throw that I was concerned but we handed it overall well.

“And fortunately we sorted it out to where we actually started moving the ball a little bit in the second half and I guess some people would say that the best defense is a good offense so making them chase a little bit and making them work really helped us out towards the end of the game.”

La Salle took a 1-0 lead after Curran and a Aces defender both went for a header on a cross from Taj Weems. The ball knocked into the air, Jennings went for a header as Lower Merion goalie Michael O’Gara tried to grab the ball with the end result being the ball dropping to Curran, who put it past a sliding save attempt by O’Gara.

“I just saw the ball go up and  I knew if I challenged it, the keeper would have a hard time with the ball,” Jennings said. “It worked and fell and Brandon had a goal.”

The Explorers doubled the lead with just 17.1 seconds when Curran tapped a through ball into Michalak and freshman slid a shot by O’Gara and into the right side of the net.

“We worked all year for this stuff,” Jennings said. “I think we were prepared. Our back to our front, we’ve all played really well and we just played as a team, came out with a 2-0 dub.”

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