By Dylan Butler
Filippa Petruccelli didn’t score a goal, in fact she hit the post on the potential game-winning penalty kick during the shootout. But that didn’t make her any less of an inspiration in St. Francis Prep’s thrilling 2-1 win over Sacred Heart in the Nassau-Suffolk Catholic High School Girls Athletic Association semifinals at Kennedy Memorial Park in Hempstead Friday.
Petruccelli, the Terriers senior captain, played all but five minutes of the grueling, physical game in excruciating pain from a series of strained muscles in her lower back. Prep head coach John Jenkins said she played at “maybe 25, 30 percent.”
With six minutes left in regulation, Petruccelli walked off the field with tears streaming down her face. It appeared she could give no more.
But faced with the reality of possibly playing her final high school soccer match, Petruccelli remarkably leapt up and re-entered the match five minutes later and played both 10-minute overtime sessions and a pair of 5-minute sudden death overtime periods before the game would be won by Prep, 3-2, in the penalty kick shootout.
“It brought tears to our eyes watching her crawling around in pain,” said junior Christine Lettieri, who scored the game-tying goal for the Terriers in the 31st minute. “She’s our inspiration. She keeps us up, she makes us play harder.”
Petruccelli was also the leading cheerleader on the way to the game, telling her teammates that despite not scoring a goal in a 2-0 loss and a 0-0 tie against Sacred Heart during the regular season, it was St. Francis Prep’s time to win.
“The whole bus ride over here we were screaming, we all wore our [team] sweatshirts in school today,” said Petruccelli, who was named to the All-Long Island team as well as being selected the league’s Most Valuable Player. “What this team is, is heart. As the captain, it’s my job to pump the team up.”
Petruccelli did her job well, as a 1-0 deficit five minutes into the game couldn’t even faze St. Francis Prep (8-4-2), as Stephanie Giarrusso beat Terriers keeper Christina Aquilon high inside the far post from 15 yards out giving Sacred Heart (10-3-1) an early lead.
But 26 minutes later, the Terriers netted the equalizer as Lettieri took advantage of a strong wind at her back and blasted a free kick from 28-yards out off Spartans keeper Theresa Longnecker’s hands and into the net to even the score at 1-1.
For the final 49 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime, neither team had another dangerous scoring opportunity as much of the fast paced, high-intensity match was reserved for the midfield. Junior Catherine Galiano, an all-league selection, anchored the Terriers stingy defense that stymied the Spartans quick and potent Spartans offense.
After 110 minutes of evenly matched soccer and with what was left of daylight quickly fading, the game went into penalty kicks.
The pressure of the first penalty kick was on the shoulders of Lettieri, but the Whitestone resident calmly beat Longnecker high into the upper right corner of the net to give the Terriers the edge.
“I only missed about three penalties my whole life,” Lettieri said. “Before I kicked it I just asked God for help and I stayed relaxed. I knew I had my teammates behind me.”
St. Francis Prep held a 1-0 edge through the first four kicks, as Prep’s Suzie O’Connell and Kaitlin McTague and Allison Hayes from Sacred Heart all booted the ball over the net.
St. Francis Prep sophomore Tina Rodriguez, who was also named to the All-Long Island team, gave the Terriers a commanding 2-0 edge as she slotted the ball past Longnecker low to the keeper’s left.
Lizzy Speck and Lauren Errico converted their kicks for Sacred Heart and Lynne Dunham scored for Prep, setting up Petruccelli’s possible game-winner. But Petruccelli — who already had a penalty kick stopped by Longnecker in the regular season — struck the post, opening the door for the Spartans to tie the score. But Brynn McGrath’s shot hit the same post as St. Francis Prep raced to mob Aquilon.
“When it comes down to the shootout, after 80 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime and 10 minutes of sudden death overtime, we just fell a bit short,” said Sacred Heart head coach Chris Chruma. “All the girls gave their heart out on the field. It’s tough to be on the losing end of a shootout but you can’t change the rules.”
For the first time in seven years St. Francis Prep advances to the championship game to face St. Anthony’s, a 4-2 winner over Holy Trinity in the other semifinal match, Sunday at 2 p.m. at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. The Terriers were the only team to play the Friars close this year, losing 1-0 and tying 1-1.
“We have what it takes to go all the way,” Jenkins said. “Today was the first step and next week is the final step. The biggest thing about this team is their togetherness. It’s so touching to see 16 girls thinking the same way, wanting the same result.”
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.