The St. Mary’s High boys’ soccer team dug its way into a deep hole on Wednesday against Albany, giving up two second-half goals to the underdog Cougars. But through constant pressure and a bit of luck, the Panthers managed to avoid the upset by scoring three goals in the last 20 minutes of the match to win, 3-2, in their BSAL opener.
Seniors Pat Barry, Stephon McGrew and Bryan Warren each scored a goal to lead the Panthers (5-9, 1-0 BSAL) to victory. McGrew and Warren’s goals, the tying and winning scores, both went through the hands of Albany goalkeeper Juan Carlos.
“We got lucky, but we’re the much better team,” Barry said. “We had some other shots that could have gone in, but they didn’t.”
The seniors’ heroics was necessary because of a short defensive lapse by the Panthers that handed Albany (1-5, 0-3) two easy goals early in the second half. St. Mary’s head coach Teale Matteson decided to move sweeper Brenden Slevin out to the wing to get more offense, but Slevin’s absence left a big hole in the Panther defense. Albany’s Spencer Dill took advantage, starting with a great through ball to teammate Sean Carey. St. Mary’s goalkeeper Danny Penza hesitated to come out, and Carey slid the ball past him for the game’s first goal in the 55th minute.
Dill nearly had another assist a minute later with another through ball, this time to Christian Garcia, but Garcia put his shot over the crossbar. But Albany didn’t wait long for another goal, this time with Dill taking a through pass from Jake Mayers. Dill slammed the ball past Penza, and the St. Mary’s sideline looked shell-shocked. A loss to bottom-feeding Albany would have been a crushing blow to the Panthers’ title hopes, especially to start league play.
“My intent was to create offense for us, but it backfired a little bit,” Matteson said. “I was getting ready to make the correction when (Albany) scored their second goal, so it was a coaching error on my part.”
But the Panthers started to attack the Albany goal, getting several opportunities to score before Barry got them on the scoreboard by putting home a rebound from a Slevin shot in the 70th minute.
St. Mary’s got a lift when Matteson inserted Warren for the final 15 minutes of the game. Warren is one of the team’s best players, but was sitting out due to violation of team rules. Matteson realized that since the team needed a win, Warren gave them the best chance to getting one.
“I figured we needed a jolt, and Bryan can give that to us,” Matteson said. “But I was surprised he played as well as he did.”
With Warren and McGrew dominating the midfield, the Panthers continued their assault on the Albany goal. Several chances came and went without a score, but when a McGrew pass came right back to him at the top of the box, he decided to take a shot with his left foot. The ball snaked through a group of players, then took a funny hop in front of Carlos. The ball came up, hit the goalie on the shoulder, hit the inside of the post and went in for a tie game.
Warren showed his temperamental side soon after, getting into a tussle with several Albany players after missing a close shot. But he proved his value to the team with just a minute left to play. McGrew went down in the box but didn’t get a call, and the ball bounced out to Warren. Shooting from the same spot as McGrew’s goal, Warren sent a low liner at Carlos. The goalkeeper went to his knees for the save, but the ball squirted through his hands for the game-winner.
“We dodged a bullet today,” Matteson said. “It was exciting though, wasn’t it?”