No. 1 Pelham advances to round 2 of soccer playoffs

By CHRIS GRIESEDIECK | Special to the Reporter

PELHAM – The Pelham boys’ soccer team defeated John Carroll Catholic 2-0 in front of an energetic home crowd on Friday night, April 28.

Pelham, the No. 1 ranked school in Class 6A, had won seven of their last eight games coming into Friday’s contest.

“When you’re No. 1, you’re always looking to play your best game and opponents are always looking to give you their best shot. John Carroll gave us their best tonight,” Pelham head coach Patrick McDonald said after the game.

The Panthers had some experience against the Cavaliers beating them back in February by a final score of 3-0 giving them somewhat of an idea of what to expect against a traditionally strong soccer program.

Pelham controlled the tempo right from the opening kickoff, applying pressure and holding the ball on John Carroll’s half of the field for several minutes.  They had a goal waved off in the sixth minute play due to a player being offside. Although the players were flustered that the goal didn’t count, their patience, poise and determination payed off later.

“Overall, we didn’t have many shots, but we capitalized on our opportunities,” McDonald said. “We made the most of our chances, and that was the difference in the game.”

In the 13th minute, Pelham converted its best chance after a John Carroll foul gave the Panthers a direct free kick outside the 18.  Senior midfielder Brian Heredia lined up the ball and decided to go left.  His ball skimmed over a wall of Cavaliers and fooled John Carroll goalkeeper Will DiPiazza for a 1-0 lead.

“In those situations, Brian is our guy to take the free kicks,” McDonald said. “He’s our anchor in the middle. The keeper was expecting the shot to go the right and it went left.”

Heredia continued to be a force for the Panthers, securing 50/50 balls and setting up scoring plays.

In the 39th minute, just seconds before halftime, Pelham increased their lead to 2-0.  Heredia was able to win the ball on the left side and found Irvin Rodriguez in the box.  With a defender on his back, Rodriguez took a touch, turned, and fired a laser shot into the bottom right corner of the goal.

While neither team scored in the second half, there was plenty of exciting action.

In the 56th minute, Pelham nearly made it 3-0.  When defender Gregory Blue gained speed on the attack, he launched a shot from distance that could’ve been the goal of the year. However, Cavalier goalkeeper DiPiazza made a fantastic sprawling save, which kept his team alive.

John Carroll’s best scoring chance came two minutes later. Jack Bapst and Brandon Garcia worked a nice give-and-go up the left side. Bapst then dribbled past two Pelham defenders and hit a firm shot with his left foot. Unfortunately for John Carroll, the shot clanked off the far post and a Pelham defender immediately cleared out the rebound.

Despite the Cavs late push, the Panthers remained focused and determined on defense the rest of the way. Senior goalie Seth Torman preserved the shutout, and he had much help from his solid back line.

“Our guys in the back played great,” McDonald said.  “They did a great job of winning balls in the air, heading it out and using space.”

With the win, Pelham boosts their overall record to 18-5-1.  The Panthers’ second round matchup is set for Tuesday, May 2, at 7 p.m., as they travel to Northridge (Tuscaloosa) to battle the Jaguars.