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Pallotti boys soccer blanks Gerstell Academy for fourth straight win

Pallotti's James Ikebudu goes up after the ball last season against Laurel's Nang Muang. Ikebudu had a goal and assist in Pallotti's 6-0 victory over Gerstell Academy on Nov. 19.
Pallotti's James Ikebudu goes up after the ball last season against Laurel's Nang Muang. Ikebudu had a goal and assist in Pallotti's 6-0 victory over Gerstell Academy on Nov. 19. (Paul W. Gillespie/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

After 20 years as an assistant coach of the Saint Vincent Pallotti boys soccer team, Charlie Peterson took over the head position for Steve Shurman last year with a very young roster.

After a 7-1 loss in 2019 to Laurel early in the season he had a message for his team, “Before the year is out, I keep telling them, ‘Hey, I’m 70 years old and I don’t have forever, so I’m not building for next year or the year after that, I’m building for right now,’” Peterson said. “I like the group I’ve got. They are going to be fine.”

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They righted the ship and reached the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference semifinals where they lost to Key.

That followed a win over St. John’s Catholic by penalty kicks in the quarterfinals.

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Over the winter, the players competed in an indoor league against players two years older and they went 4-1 before the league was short-circuited by the coronavirus pandemic.

This fall, the Panthers proved they could do it outdoors, going 6-1.

The Panthers got their fourth straight win on Nov. 19 at Fairland Regional Park when they blanked Gerstell Academy, 6-0.

It was the fourth shutout of the season for the defense anchored by junior goalie Travis Holiday.

Holiday is in the Olympic Development Program and Peterson was aware of him for years.

“He’s a top-level goalie and I’ve known him for a while,” Peterson said. “I helped his team at Bowie for years and I knew him before he even came here.”

Peterson is also fond of his defensive backline featuring junior Jalani Campbell, sophomore Kamarre Lawrence and freshman Louie Paneblanco.

“I love our defense,” Peterson said. “I never took any of them out.”

The offense has been very impressive as well, outscoring foes 38-8 overall and 38-5 in the six wins.

Pallotti’s only loss was to Concordia Prep, 3-0.

Against Gerstell, freshman Ben Miller had two goals and an assist, James Ikbudo had a goal and assist and Ike Gbolagun added two assists to lead the Panthers.

Tommy Bello, Raul Villafane and Connor Olsen also scored for the winners.

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The Panthers struck early when Miller fed Bello with a nifty cross less than three minutes into the game.

Gerstell responded with a shot that went wide by Kirk Kilroy and another off the foot of Travis Smith that was saved by Holiday.

The open looks drew the ire of Peterson.

“I was yelling at them early because they seemed to be sleepwalking,” Peterson said.

The defense got it in gear and stymied the Gerstell attack the rest of the day.

The offense got a spark off the bench with 18:16 left in the first half when junior Villafane drilled a ball into the top corner of the net. It was the first assist for Gbolagun.

“They were all chasing me and he was just sitting there right behind me and I was like ‘OK, I got you,’for a second he paused and I was like, ‘Shoot the ball,’ and luckily he put it away,” Gbolagun said.

Late in the first half the floodgates opened when the Panthers scored two goals in the final 127 seconds.

After James Ikebudu was tripped in the box he drilled a penalty kick, and with 38 seconds left Gbolagun assisted Miller for a 4-0 lead.

It was the team-leading 13th goal for Miller, who also has 11 assists.

“He tries to set people up. He’s not selfish about his play,” Peterson said.

The Panthers midfield dominated most of the game with strong efforts from Bello, John Ikebudu and Warren Mouganda.

“Mouganda, he has really helped us in the middle,” said Peterson, who moved him and Bello from forward to midfield. “They pair up very well there.”

Pallotti has five games remaining with the next one scheduled for Dec. 1 at Saints Peter and Paul.

Gbolagun, the only senior on the field against Gerstell, likes the way the squad has come together.

“We are playing great soccer,” Gbolagun said. “I think this is the best team I’ve been a part of and I think we can go all the way.”

“We are kind of on a roll right now,” Peterson said.

Since an organized playoff tournament is most likely not going to happen, the coach is hoping to get at least one more extra game.

“We are trying to play top teams. We are trying to play B Conference teams,” Peterson said. “That’s my ambition to eventually go back up to B Conference.”

Pallotti has beaten B Conference opponents Gerstell and St. Mary’s and the only loss came against the B Conference’s Concordia Prep.

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