By Ernest Stone
While St. Ignatius entered Saturday afternoon’s West Catholic Athletic League playoff home match against Valley Christian as the No. 2 seed, late-season struggles and untimely injuries led many to believe that the Wildcats’ first-round matchup would be more challenging than expected.
But Following a 3-1 victory, there was no doubt that the Wildcats had reestablished themselves as a premier team in the WCAL.
“We were flat last time we played this team,” said St. Ignatius junior Shane Slosar. “We brought some guys up from JV, played at a faster pace overall, and it feels great to finally finish on some of the chances we weren’t converting on during the end of the season.”
Much of St. Ignatius’ (13-5-2) success was due to its aggressiveness, as the team launched three shots on target in the first 10 minutes alone. Yet, it wasn’t until the 13th minute, when senior forward Gerry Kelliher finished a corner kick with a header, that the Wildcats got on the board.
Kelliher, usually a starter, began the game on the bench, as the Wildcats elected to start a smaller lineup.
“Gerry is [6-foot-4], and on top of that he is one of our best scorers,” said St. Ignatius head coach Sean-Michael Callahan. “So it really wasn’t brave coaching, we were just doing what made the most sense for us.”
While Kelliher’s goal put St. Ignatius on top by a goal, it was junior goalkeeper Reuben Young’s back-to-back saves off a penalty kick and the ensuing rebound in the 23rd minute that electrified the bench and stole the momentum back from the Warriors.
“If he doesn’t save that and we tie it at [1-1], it would have obviously changed the dynamic of the game,” said Valley Christian head coach Eric Gaspar. “But we didn’t give up, and during certain stretches, like the one that created that penalty shot, we did a few things that gave them trouble.”
While Valley Christian (5-11-4) was able to spend much of the game on the Wildcats’ side of the field, it didn’t translate into quality opportunities. Outside of the Warriors’ close call in the 23rd minute, the St. Ignatius defense, headed by former midfielder Cullen Roche, allowed just one other shot on goal.
Then, Slosar and senior midfielder Sean Prior added goals in the 36th and 63rd minutes, to push the lead to 3-0 and put the game out of reach.
After Warriors senior captain Justin Berding sunk a penalty kick in the 74th minute to bring the score to 3-1, the two teams played out the remainder of the game without scoring.
With the win, the Wildcats not only end Valley Christian’s season, but reestablish a winning formula heading into the defining stages of their season.
“Yeah, we were involved in a little bit of a roller coaster to end our season,” Callahan said. “But we are fortunate enough to have a solid leadership corps to rely upon, and they really got us back on track today.”
SI: Gerry Kelliher- 13th minute
SI: Shane Slosar- 36th minute
SI: Sean Prior- 63rd minute
VC: Justin Berding- 74th minute