By Anthony Bosco
The third time was the charm for head coach Andy Kostell and the boys’ varsity soccer team from Archbishop Molloy High School, which captured the CHSAA state soccer championship Sunday with a 1-0 win over the St. John the Baptist Cougars at the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point.
It was the third trip to the state finals for Kostell, the soccer coach at Molloy for more than a quarter of a century. And this may have been the best team his Molloy Stanners had to face, a Cougar club which came into the game with a 15-0-2 record.
“They’re a very good team, a very talented team,” Kostell said of St. John the Baptist. “We just felt we needed to shut off as many opportunities as possible. There was a certain way we decided to play them.”
Molloy kept as many as nine players in the defensive zone most of the game, something made possible by Rob Sardis’ goal less than three minutes into the game, which gave Molloy a 1-0 lead and the eventual win.
A long pass from 40 yards bounced high just to the right of the Baptist goal and goalkeeper Emilio Nikis and defender Joe Johnson hesitated momentarily, allowing Sardis, the lone Molloy attacker near the play, to step into the fray, settle the ball, turn and fire at the open net.
“I saw there was confusion between the defender and the goalie so I just followed it up,” Sardis said. “The ball was just laying right there and I put it in.”
The goal was Molloy’s lone offensive highlight of the day. The Cougars quickly established command of play from then on in and played most of the remaining 87 minutes in the Stanners’ end of the field.
But try as they might, the Baptist attackers could not find the back of the net.
“We communicated greatly,” said Molloy senior defender T.J. O’Leary. “We called out the switches well. Everyone put their hearts into this game. No one died after the city championship. We worked hard. The defense knew what it had to do in this game. We shut them down. There were times when we were in trouble, but we kept our heads. We just kept focused and played with our hearts.”
One Cougar chance after another went without reward. Will Hall’s corner kick was headed by Camilo Correa just wide right, Ryan Trainor’s blast from 15 yards out also missed wide right and Jason DeLeon’s point blank shot at a wide open net missed it mark, all in the first 20 minutes of the game.
And when the shots by St. John the Baptist found their target, Molloy sophomore keeper Michael Testa was there to stonewall the attempts.
Testa made a diving save on another Correa shot from 25 yards out and O’Leary was there to kick Mick Leddy’s rebound shot out of play with 7:45 remaining in the first half.
And on and on it went. Baptist seemed to have a quality scoring chance every few minutes, but simply could not get the ball past Testa.
“Mike’s been playing excellent,” Kostell said of his keeper. “He had a rough game in the city championship, but Michael Testa is one of the reason’s why we’re here.”
Testa, who struggled in the CHSAA city championship, a 4-0 Molloy loss to Monsignor Farrell, downplayed his role in the win.
“They were moving the ball really well and they had a lot of shots on goal,” Testa said. “But it was just one of those days….I had a good game.”
The swirling wind and frigid temperatures did not seem to stymie the Baptist offense in the second half. For 40 solid minutes the Cougars seemed entrenched in the Molloy half of the field and on more than one occasion Testa saved the day.
With five minutes remaining in the game Testa made perhaps his best save of the day when he corralled Johnson’s blast from 10 yards out. Just moments earlier, Testa was kicked in the head while sliding out on an attacker. The injury stopped play for close to five minutes, but the young sophomore never came out of the game.
“This is the most resilient team I ever coached,” Kostell said. “I just feel glad for them. They’re a great team. These guys fought really hard all year.”
During the game’s final moments, the Cougars finally seemed to tire and Molloy was able to clear its zone. As the last seconds ticked away on the season for both teams, it was clear that Molloy would finally win a state championship and the Cougars would taste defeat for the first time.
“I wanted to go out leaving my high school soccer career remembering something special,” O’Leary said. “This is it right here.”
Molloy finishes the season with a record of 19-6-1.
Molloy 1, St. Joseph (Buffalo) 0. O’Leary’s header off a corner kick by Sardis with just under 18 minutes remaining in the first half was the difference in this CHSAA state semifinal Friday. St. John the Baptist bested CHSAA city champions Monsignor Farrell 1-0 in the other semifinal.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com