READING — The St. Mary’s boys soccer team is rolling.
Coming into Wednesday’s matchup with Catholic Central League foe Austin Prep, the Spartans were riding high. The undefeated St. Mary’s squad hadn’t allowed a goal since its season opener against English.
The shutout streak ended for the Spartans Wednesday at Austin Prep, but St. Mary’s improved to 7-0 with a 3-1 victory over the Cougars.
The shots for St. Mary’s came early and often. Chris Garcia’s shot hit the side of the net 10 minutes into the game, and two minutes later Austin Prep goalie Liam O’Donnell smothered another shot from Garcia. If not for the play of O’Donnell, especially in the opening 20 minutes, the Spartans may have been able to create distance between themselves and the Cougars. With 16:25 to play, O’Donnell again made a big save on a Garcia shot, tipping the ball up over the crossbar and then grabbing the ensuing corner kick before anyone could reach it.
The Spartans switched up their alignment later in the first half, moving Olu George from the back line up to help out offensively. George made his presence known with 4:30 to play, when his header in the box hit the goal post and bounced out of bounds.
About two minutes later, George launched a shot that was saved by O’Donnell, but it bounced out of the goalie’s hands. George followed up with another shot that was saved again, but the third time was the charm as he tipped it into the corner for the 1-0 Spartans lead.
“We made an adjustment and moved Olu up front and he stepped up, he was aggressive and eager and found the back of the net. He did what needed to be done,” St. Mary’s coach Mike D’Agostino said. “He’s a very smart player. (We needed) some flow and momentum and he did it. I could see it in him, I knew he was ready.”
Austin Prep earned a corner kick late in the half, but the whistle sounded before it could get the play off.
The Cougars came out hot in the second, forcing St. Mary’s goalie Richie Mateo to make a leaping save just over a minute in. Mateo was busy again when Austin Prep earned a direct kick (on a play that forced George out of the game for a few minutes after he collided with a Cougars player while going for a header), and Mateo made the save again.
But the shutout streak was snapped at 19:23 as Austin’s Phil Mills found the back of the net.
“Defensively we played really well,” D’Agostino said, highlighting his back line of Nolan Perez, Connor Mackey and Jose Del Valle as well as George. “The goal we let up, we had a lapse at midfield.”
George knocked home the game-winner after Thiago De Oliveira sent in a free kick. An Austin Prep defender knocked the ball high in the air, and George got a head on it in front of O’Donnell to give St. Mary’s the 2-1 lead with 12:25 to play.
From that point, the Spartans looked to be in control. They added an insurance goal as De Oliveira’s shot deflected off an Austin Prep defender.
Even though the season’s just a few weeks old, the Spartans already have their sights set on a playoff berth. With wins over conference opponents Williams (Monday) and Spellman (Wednesday) at home, St. Mary’s could clinch a tournament spot before October, which D’Agostino said is one of the team’s goals.
St. Mary’s hosts Williams Monday night at Manning Field.