By Jeremy Balan
Prior to the start of St. Ignatius’ West Catholic Athletic League semifinal game against visiting St. Francis, it was more than apparent that the gusting winds would have a significant impact.
But little did both teams know that the winds would directly affect the only goal of the game in St. Ignatius’ 1-0 win on Tuesday, sending them to the WCAL final against Bellarmine on Thursday.
After mounting almost no attack with the wind in their faces in the first half, the Wildcats (14-5-2) surged in the second with the wind at their backs, but could not get the ball in the net in a conventional way.
The lone strike instead came on a deft corner kick from senior Sean Prior in the 48th minute. Prior sent the ball on a near-perfect path from the left corner, arcing through the penalty area, and used the wind to guide the ball just inside the right post, into the net without touching another player.
“I scored one already this year, and I know the wind was really strong, so I just went up and hit it,” Prior said. “I was going for it.”
Although St. Francis dominated the few scoring chances in the first half, the second half was considerably more thrilling than the final score would indicate.
Following Prior’s goal, St. Francis (12-5-5) hit the post twice, and had two consecutive point-blank opportunities blocked by St. Ignatius defenders on the goal line.
The Wildcats had even more opportunities, hitting the post twice themselves, and almost scored on a kick from junior goalkeeper Reuben Young, which got caught up in the wind, bounced twice and nearly caught St. Francis goalkeeper Joel Fukata out of position. After initially moving up, Fukata retreated and leaped backwards to punch the ball away on the goal line.
“It was emotional, but at the end of the day, we got the one that counted,” said St. Ignatius assistant coach Brian Rhodes, who was serving as head coach in the absence of St. Ignatius head coach Sean-Michael Callahan. “We had to weather the storm in the first half, and I was surprised they had so many opportunities in the second half.”
While the Lancers had their chances, St. Francis coach Mike Salvemini was less than pleased with their performance.
“The better team won the game today. It was the right result,” Salvemini said. “We didn’t play well enough, didn’t care enough, basically just wasted a few hours. It would have been a hollow victory if we would have been able to squeak it out.”
The Wildcats’ game with Bellarmine on Thursday will be their third consecutive meeting in the championship game, with St. Ignatius seeking a third consecutive WCAL tournament title.