Sudden end for St. Francis

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Storied a tradition as the St. Francis High soccer program possesses, the aspect of success on the soccer field is only rivaled by dramatics, particularly in the postseason.

Once more, the Golden Knights took themselves and their fans on a playoff rollercoaster ride, with a second consecutive comeback foray into overtime.

Unfortunately for St. Francis and its faithful, the dramatics ended with disappointment, as the Golden Knights fell in sudden-death overtime to visiting Northwood, 3-2, in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs on Tuesday afternoon at Friedman Field.

With 5:35 remaining in the second 10-minute half of sudden-death overtime, a Jorge Robles free kick into the St. Francis goalbox was kicked in by Kyle Purzycki.

“All their goals were kind of the same,” St. Francis Coach Glen Appels said. “They were all balls that got sent to the box and they got the first touches.”

Purzycki’s kick was the first Northwood (9-7-6) shot in nearly 15 minutes of overtime play, only the third for the team since halftime and only the seventh overall.

While holding the opposing offense in check, St. Francis (8-12-2) had emerged from a 2-0 halftime deficit. Granted, the Golden Knights inevitably came up short, but the game’s nature and the simple fact that they had advanced to the second round, was further proof of the Golden Knights’ turnaround after a rocky start to the season.

“From where we were early in the season, our guys made great strides,” Appels said.

In many ways, Wednesday’s game was a synopsis of the Golden Knights’ season.

St. Francis, particularly its defense, did not play poorly in the first half. However, it seemed a bit out of sync offensively and Northwood made the most of its sparse opportunities. The teams combined for just seven first-half shots, with Northwood taking four.

The problem for St. Francis was that two of those shots went in.

The first came with just under 15 minutes remaining in the half. A Jonathan Shoo cross into the box was stopped by a St. Francis defender only to go right to Steven Buriek, who hustled onto the scene to kick in a low, close-up shot for a 1-0 lead.

Less than two minutes before the half, a very similar situation netted Northwood a 2-0 lead. A magnificent, sliding stop by St. Francis’ Andrew Blunk of a Northwood shot caromed back to Trevor Hyman, who let go on an unbelievable shot from the left side that went high and tucked inside of the far post.

But then halftime came and a different St. Francis squad took the field thereafter. Along with, albeit, a bit different Northwood team.

“I think they were trying to hold on with [a 2-0 lead],” said Appels of Northwood’s approach, which saw the team begin to try and bleed the clock all the way back in the first half after its initial 1-0 lead. “It’s tough to sit back for a half.”

It was made doubly tough by a newly dominant St. Francis offense.

Early on in the second half, close-up shots by Thomas Banks and Joel Ingram, both off balls nicely played up from Sean Fitzpatrick, were saved and sent just over the crossbar, respectively.

In all, the offense peppered the Northwood net with 12 second-half shots.

The first to go in came from Ingram with 19 minutes left in the match. Fitzpatrick played a ball up to Max Cadena who played it over to Ingram, whose low shot squirted through the grasp of the Northwood goalie.

Perhaps the biggest change for St. Francis came with the coaching staff moving Cadena, a sweeper, up to midfield in the second half.

“Max changed the game,” Appels said.

In addition, Ian Sternau took his spot on defense and did well, along with Blunk, Fitzpatrick and Jarred Joyce, to curtail any Northwood offense.

Cadena tied the game with just over 10 minutes left.

Working the ball into the box, Mark Verso was tackled to the ground at the base of the box. Verso emerged from the foul pumping his fist as the official called for the penalty kick.

A patient Cadena then took his time before lining a low shot left for a 2-2 tie.

The first half of overtime saw St. Francis get off two shots and Northwood almost end its season on an own goal.

St. Francis’ first-round win against third-seeded West Torrance saw it tie the game at 1 in the second half on a Cadena penalty kick, as well. And, after a scoreless overtime, the Golden Knights won in penalty kicks.

But on Tuesday, with all the momentum seemingly going with the Golden Knights, it all suddenly ended in Northwood’s favor.

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