By Jeremy Balan
It has been said that it’s better to be lucky than good, but Lowell High School got a sense what it meant to be both in its 1-0 win over defending champion O’Connell in the Academic Athletic Association semifinal on Wednesday at Boxer Stadium.
The good was a stout Lowell (17-0) defensive effort that held O’Connell (6-7-4) to one shot in the first half, then completely shut the Boilermakers down in the second half.
Then the luck came in the 57th minute, when Lowell senior Cameron Basaing took bad-angle shot on the left side from roughly 15 yards out. The shot was low and O’Connell sophomore goalkeeper Daniel Lopez went down to block the shot. He stopped it at first, but the ball appeared to have tremendous spin on it and bounced over Lopez and into the net for Lowell’s only goal.
“I would call it a lot of luck,” Basaing said. “I put a bit of spin on it, but when it hit the keeper’s hands it rolled right in.”
It was an unfortunate break for O’Connell, but Lopez responded admirably.
The goal seemed to wake up Lowell’s attack, as the Cardinals furiously tried to extend their lead late, but Lopez was ready and made four spectacular saves down the stretch to keep the Boilermakers within striking distance.
“A lot of goalkeepers will bury and punish themselves after a play like that, but he knew he made a mistake and he picked himself up right away,” said O’Connell head coach Bob Gamino. “There are four excellent keepers in the league and he’s one of them.”
But the Boilermakers couldn’t rally in the second half, struggling to get chances on the Cardinals back line of Avery Fisher, Lucas Decena and Brian Esterle.
“They’ve been very organized and when you talk about the back line you also have to talk about our two [wing] stoppers,” said Lowell head coach Marcos Estebez.
The Cardinals have shutout opponents in 13-of-17 games this season and have only allowed four goals, never more than one in a game.
“We’ve always have a strong back line with our three defenders and two stoppers,” Decena said. “It’s all of us. It’s a lot of teamwork.”
Lowell’s next task will be Balboa in the AAA championship game on Saturday. The Bucs upset 2009 finalist Mission 4-3 on Tuesday and feature a different team than when Lowell faced them last, in a 4-0 win on Sept. 23.
“They have some players back now and they have more speed than I ever remember them having,” Estebez said. “They’re faster and better organized. It’s a quantum leap from what we faced earlier to what we saw from them yesterday.”
With the loss, O’Connell won’t repeat as AAA champion, but Gamino felt that the Boilermakers sent a message with their stretch run.
“Nobody likes to be knocked out, period,” Gamino said. “But it’s nice to be in the playoffs for the ninth straight year. We were in last place three weeks ago, so to even be here is sweet. Our kids were getting ridiculed on the field. To all those teams that said that, they’re not here, we are.”