Steamrolling the competition leading up to Wednesday’s showdown against No. 2 McDonogh, the No. 1 Archbishop Curley soccer team hadn’t faced much adversity so far this season.
That changed dramatically Wednesday, and the Friars’ response was impressive.
After surrendering an own goal in the third minute and playing sluggishly throughout the first half, the Friars were able to find their way, and it was the dynamic forward tandem of Ben Stitz and Tommy Sidleck that paved the way.
Stitz scored two second-half goals — both from Sidleck passes — as the Friars claimed a 2-1 home win in Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference play.
The Friars (9-0) improved to 6-0 in the MIAA A, handing the Eagles (6-1 overall, 5-1 league) their first loss.
At halftime, Curley coach Barry Stitz urged his team to play with more focus and challenged his senior tandem up front to lead the way.
With 28:50 to play, Sidleck nudged a short pass across the penalty area for Stitz, who hit a left-footed shot from 15 yards to tie the game. With 18 minutes left, Sidleck settled a ball on the left side and sent a low, firm pass toward the goal that a sliding Stitz steered in just before McDonogh goalie Kieran Baskett could get to it.
“We played together a little bit [in club ball] and while we were playing there we connected a lot and learned to play off each other,” Ben Stitz said of his chemistry with Sidleck. “I think coming back this season, working together, it’s helped bring out the best in both of us.”
The Friars came into the game having outscored their first eight opponents 43-3, including 28-0 in the past four games.
But a miscommunication between All-Metro senior defender Nick Richardson and goalie Nathan Wdzieczkowski resulted in an own goal and 1-0 deficit less than three minutes into the game. With much of an even first half played at midfield and both teams finding little success creating scoring chances, the Eagles took the 1-0 advantage into the halftime break.
Barry Stitz told his team the effort wasn’t close to being good enough.
What was the difference in the second half?
“Energy,” coach Stitz said. “We were not out there competing at a level that you need to against a team of that caliber. When we did, I think we started moving the ball a little quicker, we started to create things and, as a result, we got two pretty good goals.”
Sending more players forward in the closing minutes, the Eagles threatened but the tying goal never came. Aidan Welsh, Luke Davis and Casey Settleman all took shots with one going wide, another high and the third directly at Wdzieczkowski.
Depsite the loss, McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta was satisfied with his team’s performance. The Eagles showed they could hang with the area’s top team and the confidence gained could bode well for the rest of the season. He singled out Welsh and senior defender Jayson Cyrus for playing particularly well.
“Any time you come here it’s a difficult game, especially with the run they’ve been on the last four or five games,” he said. “In the second half, we wanted to come out and do a little more on the offensive end and I thought that’s where we kind of lost the game. In the first 20 minutes, we didn’t do enough offensively. We had some chances late to tie it and that was more of what we were looking for in the second half. But I think it was a tight game throughout and Curley probably a deserving winner for me today with the way they had a little more with the ball.”
Goals: M – own; C – Stitz 2 Assists: C – Sidleck 2 Saves: M – Baskett 4; C – Wdzieczkowski 2 Half: M, 1-0