When the soccer season began in earnest, La Salle High School had one goal in mind, and it was a doozy.
Repeat as Catholic League champions.
On Monday night, Oct. 30 at Northeast High School, the Explorers reached yet another pinnacle. When their 1-0 victory over rugged Roman Catholic was over and the players raced toward each other near centerfield, it was part euphoria, part relief.
“I can’t describe it,” said senior goalie Brett Werner, who engineered his 35th career shutout. “It’s surreal. I don’t know when it’s gonna kick in, but hopefully soon because it’s a great feeling knowing we’re back-to-back champs. I’m just really happy right now.”
That’s putting it mildly. La Salle’s lone blemish during the Catholic League regular season was a 1-1 tie with Lansdale Catholic. Among La Salle’s victories was a 3-0 decision over Roman Catholic – the Cahillites’ only league non-victory – on Sept. 29. There was no way, however, that the championship would be decided by such a wide margin.
Sure enough, after a very chippy first half that actually paled in comparison to the final 40 minutes, La Salle senior Jacob Mittman scored from deep inside Roman territory with 9:29 remaining in regulation.
Asked later to describe the most important tally of his career, Mittman needed to summon a couple of nearby teammates to piece together all that occurred leading up to the ball falling behind Roman’s outstanding sophomore goaltender, Kevin Tobin.
The game was really that close.
“We fought all game,” said La Salle senior Bobby Bohner, whose sliding stop in double overtime against St. Joseph’s Prep in the league semifinal preserved La Salle’s season. “I was unsure at times. Roman played a great game. But we finally got numbers in the box and got that one. That was a big relief, but it wasn’t over after that. They had a lot of chances, but luckily, we were able to hold them off ‘til the end.”
In winning their ninth league title in their 13th final, the Explorers (17-1-2) became the first repeat champion since, ironically, La Salle captured titles in 2011 and 2012. Before that, the last back-to-back champ was … La Salle, in 2005-2006. And before that? La Salle from 1993 to 1994.
“If you treat each one individually, it takes the pressure off a little bit,” said third-year coach Tom McCaffery. “It’s tough to compare teams. The groups were so different. They both did the job. This one was very difficult. Roman played a very, very good game, probably the best competition we’ve seen all year.”
Roman Catholic, which won the league title in 2015, was playing in its fourth consecutive championship. A squad loaded with underclassmen, the Cahillites (15-6) are primed to return to the finals next year.
But this one stings.
“First off, congratulations to Tommy and his team on a great season,” said 11th-year coach Ray DeStephanis. “As for us, I’m proud of our boys. They gave the effort and played the match they needed to in order to win the game. If we drop one in early, maybe we are singing a different tune right now.
“It’s a very tough spot to be in going down on a goal like that so late in a title match and expect a good result. Still, we collected ourselves and battled fiercely until the very end. I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for us tonight.”
Meanwhile, La Salle’s season continued to shine three nights later. In the Class 4A District 12 championship Nov. 2, the Explorers received goals from five different players and coasted to 5-1 triumph over Northeast High School
As the state tournament approaches on Tuesday, the Explorers are hoping to have more success than last year, when they were ousted in the first round.
“Nobody wants this season to end, especially our seniors,” said junior Chris Metzler. “We have lot of hard work still to do.”
John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.