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Gonzaga strikes early, holds on for title

By Mark Giannotto
Monday, November 2, 2009

For Gonzaga senior captains Marcus Henderson and Will Ryan, beauty on the soccer field is in the eye of the beholder. In Gonzaga's 1-0 victory over No. 1 DeMatha in the WCAC boys' soccer championship game on Sunday, the duo had their hands full marking the Stags' long and athletic striker, junior Lester Hayes.

That's because after Gonzaga senior Earl Hamilton opened the scoring three minutes into the first half with a five-yard flick past goalie Joseph Sullivan, the Eagles spent the rest of the contest hanging on for dear life as DeMatha controlled possession for long stretches.

Heading into the game, Gonzaga didn't want simply to pack it in, not after handing DeMatha its only other loss of the season last month. With a title on the line, though, the plan changed.

"This was just down and dirty soccer, winning battles," said Ryan. "It really came down to every single tackle, making sure they didn't get any shots off."

The numbers illustrate the type of tight rope Gonzaga walked in victory. DeMatha outshot (8-4), had more corners (6-1), and had more than double the quality scoring chances. In the end, though, the only number that mattered to the Eagles was four -- as in four consecutive WCAC championships dating back to 2006.

"Coming in here since freshman year and coming away with wins," said Henderson. "That's beautiful."

Good Counsel wins

With time ticking away in double overtime of Sunday's WCAC girls' soccer final, Good Counsel junior Jessica Daly was a ball of nerves as her team lined up for its sixth corner kick of the match. The Falcons were mired in a 0-0 tie against a Cadets squad they had defeated twice during the regular season by a combined 11-2.

Daly simply hoped one of her team's big offensive threats would step up and end the scoring drought. So when her 12-yard strike from the left side of the penalty box squirted between the legs of St. John's goalie Kirsten Glad to give No. 2 Good Counsel a dramatic 1-0 victory, Daly was more surprised than anyone.

"I would think it would be Midge, Kerry, or Crystal, they score way more than me," Daly said of teammates Midge Purce (19 goals), Kerry Mueller (16 goals), and Crystal Koczot (13 goals). "Of all people, I can't believe it's me who scored it."

The WCAC title was Good Counsel's first since winning four straight between 1998 and 2001. It wouldn't come easy. St. John's, the WCAC tournament's No. 8 seed, showed early on it was a different squad than the one that finished the regular season with a 4-11-3 record.

The Cadets nearly took a lead late in the first half when Good Counsel goalie Lexi Rudolph made a diving save on a point-blank shot from sophomore Zoe Conrad. They had another golden opportunity with 12 minutes remaining in regulation when a 30-yard strike from sophomore Maisie McCune was barely flicked over the Falcons net by Rudolph.

Good Counsel answered and appeared to score a game winner off a corner kick as time expired in regulation, but officials ruled Mueller had slapped the ball in with her hand. Ultimately, it set the stage for the Falcons' unlikely hero.

Daly "doesn't have these great overwhelming skills, she actually understands how to play the game," said Good Counsel Coach Jim Bruno. "So it makes sense to me, she got the ball and said, 'Hey, I know how to put this thing in.' And she did."

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