SCH junior Phil Kelly (left) and senior Tom Higgins celebrate Kelly’s winning goal in last Thursday’s match, while in the background, Penn Charter junior Cole Brown brings the ball back out of the goalcage. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In their two regular-season Inter-Ac League soccer matches, the lads from Penn Charter won the first encounter, 2-0, while Springside Chestnut Hill Academy prevailed in the second meeting, 4-2.

So when the teams squared off a third time in a Pa. Independent Schools tournament quarterfinal last Thursday afternoon, some Northwest Philly bragging rights were on the line, as well as a spot in the semifinals.

It was about as close as a game could be while still producing a winner, and rock solid goaltending by SCH freshman Sam McDowell and a second-half marker by junior Phil Kelly carried the host Blue Devils to a 1-0 victory.

Since coping with some mid-season injuries, Springside Chestnut Hill coach Joe DiSalvo said, “We’re getting better every game and we’re finally getting to the point I thought we’d be at earlier in the year. We’re playing really well defensively, and today Sam got his fourth shutout in a row, and his eighth for the season.”

SCH (12-10-2 overall) came into the tournament as the 11th seed and Penn Charter (10-7-2) was number three, so the Quakers were going to host the recent bout between the teams before a Nor’easter caused the contest to be moved from PC’s grass soccer pitch to the SCH’s Landreth Field, with its new artificial turf surface.

SCH reached last Thursday’s quarterfinal via a 2-0 victory in an opening round match against sixth-seeded Friends Central, which was the Friends Schools League runner-up this fall. Kelly gave the visiting Devils a 1-0 halftime lead, and senior Tom Higgins’ header provided some insurance in the second period. Penn Charter, meanwhile, won its opening round match in the Indy tournament without a struggle when Solebury School defaulted.

“It actually would’ve been nice to play that other game,” said PC mentor Bob DiBenedetto, “and it would’ve been nice to have a practice on turf, but the schedule’s been crazy with the weather. You’ve just got to go ahead and play the game, and I don’t think it really made much difference.”

Each team won on the other’s home ground during the regular season, but the game that SCH hosted was on the grass at Carson Valley School.

Both squads had multiple scoring opportunities in the first half last Thursday, but neither could finish. A lot of balls PC sent into the box at the offensive end were lofted up in the air and were pulled down by the Devils’ McDowell. SCH had chances on corner kicks and throw-ins, and on a run at the cage by senior Andrew Marcantonio-Fields. Charter got a solid effort in the back from senior defender Sam Agre (who has committed to American University) and from freshman keeper Andrew Verdi.

The back-and-forth continued as the second half got underway. The Devils netted the game’s only goal with 28:12 remaining.

From the midfield, they got the ball up to Kelly about 30 yards from the goal. Quickly spotting the potential for a breakaway, he accelerated with the ball and got past the last Quakers defender. Kelly then drew Verdi out of the cage and shot the ball by him.

Springside Chestnut Hill had some chances to go up 2-0, and late in the contest, Charter came close to tying the game more than once. On another Blue Devils breakaway, Marcantonio-Fields had Verdi come out and take the ball off his feet, and later SCH junior Anthony Liddy fired a shot just outside the upper left corner of the Quakers’ cage.

PC eventually slowed the Devils’ momentum and generated more activity on offense. With 10 minutes to go, junior Bradford Jones sent a nice cross along the goalmouth from a sharp angle on the right, but none of his Quakers colleagues were sealing off the play at the far post.

Soon after that SCH’s McDowell managed to clamp onto the ball in the midst of a scrum in front of his cage, and later Charter’s Ted Foley narrowly missed getting his head on a high bouncing ball in the middle of the SCH box. The PC senior had another chance when he got the ball low on the left with his back to the goal, but when he pivoted and shot, McDowell was just a few feet away to block the attempt.

In the closing moments, the Devils’ Evan Wilson drove a promising shot a little high into the Quakers’ crossbar, but the one goal was all his club would need for the win.

“You’ve got to make plays, and they made plays today and we didn’t,” commented DiBenedetto. “We had our opportunities, and their keeper made a couple of huge saves.”

PC still had its traditional end-of-season clash with Germantown Academy coming up on the weekend, and with a 1-0 win in that game PC locked up second-place outright in the Inter-Ac, with a 6-3-1 record. SCH was happy to be able to keep playing in the Pa. Indy tournament, having gotten on a roll rather late in the fall campaign. In the Inter-Ac, the Devils started out 0-5-1 and then came on to win their last four league tilts.

With exception of Mercersburg Academy, a first-round loser to GA, all of the teams participating in the tournament come from Southeastern Pa. Next up for SCH is a semifinal meeting with second-seeded Hill School, while on the other side of the bracket, top-seeded Haverford School (the Inter-Ac champ) faces number 13 Phelps School.

SCH lost 4-0 to Hill back in late September, but obviously the Devils hope to make a better showing this time around.

“We’ll need to bring our “A” game, definitely,” said DiSalvo. “Hill is very, very good, one of the best teams we’ve played all year.”