No. 2 McDonogh dominates in a 3-1 win over top-ranked Curley

Casey Settleman celebrated his Senior Day with his 20th goal of the season, igniting McDonogh to a 3-1 win over No. 1 Archbishop Curley.

by Gary Adornato

From start to finish, the McDonogh boys soccer team was at the top of its game, Wednesday afternoon in Owings Mills, as the second-ranked Eagles outworked No. 1 Archbishop Curley at nearly every turn. The Eagles were physically aggressive, taking the action to Curley and disrupting the Friars usual technical superiority to capture a 3-1 Senior Day victory that vaults McDonogh into a first-place tie with the Friars in the MIAA A Conference.

Much of the first half was played at an even pace, but it was clear early that Curley was struggling to connect with its intricate passing game, which fuels the team’s lethal offensive attack. The Friars did not respond to McDonogh’s physicality and steadily wore down on what was a gorgeous fall afternoon.

As the first half progressed, McDonogh’s confidence grew and the Eagles ultimately broke out on top, in the 25th minute, on the 20th goal of the season by the Eagles’ senior star Casey Settleman.

The goal was initiated by a free kick volley ball from junior Andrew Privett that was knocked down in the box by senior Aiden Welsh. Settleman, on the left side of the box, went low to put a side-winding right-footed strike on the ball, ripping it into the back of the net for a 1-0 Eagles’ lead.

“That’s usually where I am positioned on free kicks, the knock down just in case we don’t get a header on goal,” said Settleman, who has led the McDonogh offense all season. “It just fell to me and I put it away. It was big to get off to a fast start.”

As big as that score was, the Eagles really put Curley on its heels with their second score, which came in the final minute of the first half.

McDonogh sophomore Mason Christian won a 50-50 ball from Curley’s Adrian Avaellaneda, as the two collided hard in the air. Avaellaneda fell to the turf, while Christian gathered the ball off to his right and sent a wicked diagonal shot across the box which crashed into the net, inside the left post, with 49-second left in the half.

Curley played its best soccer of the day in the first 10 minutes of the second half and nearly broke through with at the 29:42 mark when Anthony Dragisics’ sliding shot was partially blocked but still heading for the goal, only to be headed over the cage by Welsh, at the last. The Friars, however, kept up the heat and finally scored, 23 seconds later, when Nick Richardson fed Brandon Knapp, cutting McDonogh’s lead to 2-1.

At that point it was anyone’s game, but McDonogh never rattled. The Eagles kept their foot on the gas, and got a third goal in the 73rd minute when junior Sean Nolan burried a big shot. Nolan found himself in open space with the ball, 16-yards out, spun and triggered a shot that virtually iced it.

As the clock wound down, it was McDonogh that was still the more aggressive team, creating several other excellent opportunities and, more importantly, limiting Curley’s chances to respond.

“Coach always says the best senior class usually wins the championship and we think we have the best senior class,” said Settleman. “We came out firing on our Senior Day at home against the best team in the state and we knew we wanted to get the one seed. We dominated and we deserved it.”

Indeed the victory by the Eagles put them in control of their own destiny in the chase for the top seed. McDonogh (16-2 overall) and Curley (16-2-1) are both 12-2 in the league and with 36 points they sit just two points in front of third-place Mount St. Joseph, which defeated Calvert Hall, 1-0, on Wednesday. Should both teams win their final two games, McDonogh would own the tie-break advantage.

McDonogh plays its final two games on the road, Friday at St. Joe and at Archbishop Spalding, next Wednesday. A win at St. Joe would give the Eagles a season-sweep of the Gaels, with whom Curley split, and that would be the tie-breaker. Curley plays Gilman at home on Saturday, before closing at Calvert Hall. St. Joe only has one game left. To advance into one of the top two seeds, it needs to beat McDonogh and see either McDonogh or Curley lose both their final two games.

According to McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta, the Eagles responded to Curley’s push with their best soccer of the day.

“For the quality of the two teams, I would say the first 40 minutes was a little scrappy both ways,” said Quaranta. “Especially the first 20, neither team really had a hold of the ball. There was a lot of tackling, a lot of 50-50’s, but we kept doing the work. The second half we played well and what I was most proud of was when they got the goal and the 2-1. At that point, against a quality team like that, you can start saying, ‘oh no,’ and you almost wait for the second one. If we would have done that they probably would have got the second goal and then the third and we would have lost. Instead we played our best soccer at that point. We jumped on the front foot and scored the third and went for more. The second half, overall, may have been our best half of the year.”

As for the Friars, who had several players hobbling by game’s end, it is time to lick their wounds and regroup for their playoff push.

“I’d like to say we have to have a short memory, but we have to compete more,” said Curley coach Barry Stitz. “Hats off to them. They played well and pressed us. We got rattled when things got a little hectic. The key would have been, when we weren’t playing well offensively and holding the ball, not to give up goals, and we gave up two goals off of set pieces, and when you fall behind against good teams, like we did at St. Joe and here, it’s hard to come back.

“I told each of the kids, it’s not me that can make them want to win. We’ve got a great team. We’ve got a lot of experience and we’re in a position where we can win a championship this year. But, they also have to understand that it’s not going to be easy and we’ve got to do better than we did today.”

NO. 2 MCDONOGH 3, NO. 1 ARCHBISHOP CURLEY 1

AC    0  1    1

MCD 2  1    3

GOALS: AC-Brandon Knapp; MCD-Casey Settleman, Mason Christian, Sean Nolan.

ASSISTS: AC-Nick Richardson; MCD-Aiden Welsh.

SAVES: AC-Nathan Wdzieczkowski 5; MCD-Kieran Baskett 2.