Father Judge falls short of title crown

Reg­u­la­tion time was not enough for the Cath­ol­ic League to de­term­ine a boys soc­cer cham­pi­on on Nov. 2.

With the title game tied at 1-1, the Fath­er Judge and La Salle high school teams were eager to battle through sud­den-death over­time. 

But it was over be­fore it ever really got star­ted. 

La Salle’s Dari­us Madis­on scored the game-win­ner 55 seconds in­to over­time, giv­ing the Ex­plorers its sixth Cath­ol­ic League soc­cer title. It was their first since 2006. 

“They just came out and played harder,” said Fath­er Judge seni­or cap­tain Nick Battaglia. “We all played a hell of a game, but they came out on top. That goal at the end, they just put it away.”

The Ex­plorers dom­in­ated the first half of game ac­tion with ball pos­ses­sion and shots on goal. They cap­tured the lead in the game’s 32nd minute when Madis­on scored his first of two goals.

By the second half, however, a fire had re-ig­nited with­in Fath­er Judge. The Cru­saders showed the de­term­in­a­tion that got them to the fi­nals, a run high­lighted by an eight-game win streak that took the team to the post­season.

Cru­saders standout Kev­in Pohl scored on a corner kick to tie the game. It was the first goal per­mit­ted this sea­son in Cath­ol­ic League play by La Salle, which shut out its op­pon­ents on the way to a 15-0 re­cord.

And just like that, the mo­mentum shif­ted. 

Both squads battled un­til reg­u­la­tion time ran out. La Salle seemed rattled after giv­ing up that first goal to a Cath­ol­ic League foe; the Cru­saders seized the mo­ment but failed to cap­it­al­ize.

With­in the first minute of sud­den-death OT, it was all over. 

“The mo­mentum star­ted sway­ing to our side. We just couldn’t get an­oth­er op­por­tun­ity,” said Judge coach John Dun­lop. “They have some spe­cial play­ers on their side. We had to make some ad­just­ments ac­cord­ingly. I think we couldn’t get in­to a rhythm be­cause of that, and that’s to their cred­it.”

The Cru­saders — and their army of fans gathered along the side­lines — seemed ut­terly shocked by the out­come. Play­ers cried as La Salle ju­bil­antly hois­ted its Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship plaque.

ldquo;We were con­fid­ent today. We put the only goal in the net against them,” said Battaglia. “We felt good go­ing in­to over­time, but they got the shot in … caught the goalie off-guard. It went over his head. There’s noth­ing you can do about it.”

For Battaglia, the loss was slightly more per­son­al. His best friend since child­hood is a start­ing mid­field­er for the Ex­plorers. 

“One of my best friends, Chris Pawlowski, is on their team,” Battaglia said after shar­ing a hug with Pawlowski. “I’ve known him my whole life. If I had to lose to any­one, I would want to lose to him. I re­spect their team. They have a good team.”

La Salle now has a 19-1 over­all re­cord, in­clud­ing 16 shutouts. They de­feated Pub­lic League cham­pi­on George Wash­ing­ton High School, 3-0, in the state’s Dis­trict 12 Class AAA title game on Thursday night. 

As for Fath­er Judge, their sea­son con­cludes 14-5-1 over­all. The Cru­saders outscored op­pon­ents by 18 goals. 

Fath­er Judge goal­keep­er Dylan Trush — who had 10 saves in the title game — al­lowed only 21 goals this year. He re­cor­ded sev­en shutouts for Fath­er Judge, in­clud­ing two in the post­season.

Battaglia, mean­while, tried to stay up­beat about the loss. 

“I wouldn’t change it for any­thing. I mean, win­ning the cham­pi­on­ship is what we wanted, but we’re a fam­ily,” he said. “We all love each oth­er. We all play hard, every play. We have a lot of young guys on the team, but every­one stepped up this year. We had great coach­ing, great train­ing, everything. It was a great sea­son.”

Now that the sea­son is over, Battaglia — who plans to play soc­cer at col­lege next year — can al­low his groin to heal, an in­jury caused by a muscle pull dur­ing a quarterfi­nal play­off game against Arch­bish­op Wood on Oct. 25. 

ldquo;I just wrapped it up. It doesn’t af­fect my game,” he said. “Once the game starts, my ad­ren­aline kicks in and I just play. I don’t think about it.”

Battaglia com­peted in every play­off game. He had one goal in the quarterfi­nals against Wood, than struck again with an­oth­er in the semi­finals against Ro­man Cath­ol­ic. 

“Nick has been a grinder. He’s been fight­ing in­jur­ies throughout the sea­son. The whole play­off sea­son he had a pulled groin,” said Dun­lop. “He’s a seni­or cap­tain. He’s a great lead­er. He’s been with me for three years. He’s like a son. All these guys are. They have a spe­cial place with me.” ••

You can reach at myerkov@bsmphilly.com.

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