Captain connection sends Abington past Wissahickon

ABINGTON >> Gavin O’Neill didn’t hide the fact he has a favorite target when serving a set piece.

The first thing the Abington boys soccer team senior co-captain looks for before driving a ball toward goal is Bryce Lexow, or more specifically, Bryce Lexow’s head peeking out over everyone else’s. Lexow, also a senior co-captain, plays his part well and knows the ball is usually coming his way.

Tuesday, the captain-to-captain connection paid off when Lexow headed in O’Neill’s free kick in the final minute to give the Ghosts a 3-2 win over visiting Wissahickon.

“He’s the biggest kid on the field,” O’Neill said with a laugh and Lexow right next to him. “The captain-to-captain connection is unreal. I’m always looking for him in the box, he’s my number one target because he’s going to win the header at least 90 percent of the time.”

Wissahickon has traditionally played the Ghosts well, with Abington eking out a 2-1 win in their first meeting and Tuesday’s rematch truly came down to the final minute. Even with the Trojans’ top attacking player Christian Vorchheimer sitting due to a red card suspension, Lexow said Abington wasn’t overlooking the visitors.

The Ghosts weren’t sharp early however and the midfield where O’Neill and Lexow patrol wasn’t pulling its weight with a lot of turnovers, some lost challenges and a lack of cohesive passing. It opened the door for the Trojans to capitalize and they did just 11 minutes in.

Julian Memis was able to pick up the ball on the right flank, get to the corner and serve in a great cross that senior Jake Slackman met mid-air at the far post, heading it off the crossbar and over the line.

“Completing passes in the midfield and getting out wide was our biggest problem,” O’Neill said. “We just didn’t do that in the first half but we started to figure it out as the game went on.”

Abington equalized just a few moments later off a restart. After a foul set up a Ghosts free kick near midfield, defender Alex Woll’s driven service found striker Arsene Bado, who flicked the ball on to Liam Hartman and the sophomore winger was able to finish the 1-v-1 opportunity.

Hartman, who had an active game, would then give the Ghosts a 2-1 lead off another reset opportunity. Off a ball kicked over the touch line, Michael Siravo quickly threw it in play to Bado, who played it right back to Siravo for a cross to Hartman near the endline. Making a quick and sharp turn, Hartman was able to spin and score with 4:35 left in the opening half.

Wiss had some last-minute magic of its own, tying the game up with 56 seconds left before halftime. Defender Jack Schmidt drove a free kick into the box, with the service glancing off a Ghosts defender’s shin and up into the air where Michael Om calmly headed it into the netting.

Despite tying the score, Trojans coach Stuart Malcolm felt his team’s effort wasn’t good enough on the afternoon.

“It’s been the story all season and I told them, unless you’re willing to compete, you’re going to be on the backside of games when you play a team that competes for 80 minutes,” Malcolm said. “Varsity soccer is about competing and that’s about where we’re at right now, summed up with that ending goal.”

The match turned in the middle during the second half. With freshman Oscar Hoffman playing well as the holding mid behind Lexow and O’Neill, the two captains found a well of resolve to better their play. O’Neill pushed a bit higher up the pitch to help support Bado while Lexow became an air warrior, winning practically every head ball he went up for against with his height advantage.

“No. 11 (Lexow) won every head ball, that was it,” Malcolm said.

Lexow added that coach Randy Garber told the team at half to keep their focus, be better in the middle and wait for the right chance to come. It nearly arrived two minutes into the second half when forward Thomas Santangelo forced Wiss keeper Hunter Graefe into a point blank save before crashing his rebound shot off the crossbar.

Wissahickon, which had a good number of chances in the first half, saw that reservoir start to run dry as their time on the ball went down.

“We wanted to win the midfield,” Lexow said. “Every game we’ve done well, we’ve controlled the midfield, won headers and possessed the ball until we look to hit it over the top. When we started to control the midfield, that’s when started to control the whole game and what led to our success.”

It also required some self-intervention on the Ghosts’ behalf. With the grass at Abington’s Schwarzman Stadium extra long, the ball was playing slower than expected and sticking when any Ghost player tried to dribble and Lexow noted the Trojans had a good defensive plan on Bado that made for a lot of wasted passes.

Abington also firmed up winning the second ball in the second half, whether it was O’Neill checking back or Hoffman coming up after Lexow soared up for a header.

“We worked harder,” O’Neill said. “We’re an upperclassman-heavy team, so we have experience playing and we can use our strength on the field to help gain control.”

Abington hosts Hatboro-Horsham on Thursday night in a pivotal match for the SOL Liberty standings while Wissahickon will visit Quakertown the same day. Abington beat the Hatters 3-2 in double overtime on a O’Neill corner that Lexow headed in with 30 seconds left a few weeks back.

Despite their midfield mastery in the second half, the Ghosts were still looking at a 2-2 score and overtime when a foul set up a free kick on the left wing about 40 yards from the goal. O’Neill drove it right to the middle of the box, where Lexow got up, beating a Wiss defender to the summit and directing the ball past a leaping Graefe for the winner.

“I saw the keeper going up and also the guy marking me going up so I knew if I didn’t win it, it was going to come out free somewhere,” Lexow said. “I was able to seal it, get up and got it past the goalie.”

ABINGTON 2 1 – 3
Goals: A – Liam Hartman (Alex Woll, Aresene Bado), Hartman (Michael Sirvano), Bryce Lexow (Gavin O’Neill), W – Jake Slackman (Julian Memis), Michael Om (Jake Schmidt).

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