Prep skips past East Boston, into D1 North final

St. John's Gabriel Najim kicks the ball into play during Wednesday's game. (Item Photo by Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — In a back-and-forth battle that lasted the full 80 minutes, the No. 9 St. John’s Prep boys soccer team just barely got the better of No. 4 East Boston, 2-1, in the Division 1 North semifinals at Manning Field Wednesday afternoon. The Eagles scored both of their goals in the second half, both of which came on set pieces.

“Our goal was to play at a pace that they (East Boston) weren’t used to and to tire them out, and I think for the most part that worked,” said Prep coach Dave Crowell. “But that was a good team that we beat today. We had to hang on a bit at the end, but we did a good job.”

Junior midfielders Ethan Ambrosh and Gabriel Najim were the goal scorers for the Prep. Goalkeeper Christian Buckley played a solid game in net, while centerbacks Peter Danis and Ryan Hart played solid defensive games.

“Our defense, to use a football analogy, is kind of ‘bend, don’t break’ and we’ve just been scoring enough to get by lately,” said Crowell. “But I really liked the effort on that end tonight. Our guys did a great job.”

The first half didn’t feature any goals, but there were plenty of near-misses on both sides. The Eagles had chances on a corner and on a free kick, while East Boston had two breakaway chances at the net in addition to a free kick of its own. But neither team was able to find the back of the net, and the score remained tied at 0-0 going into the break.

The second half was a different story. The Prep wasted no time, jumping out to a quick 1-0 lead less than three minutes in. The goal came after a perfect throw-in by the Eagles, with the ball finding its way all the way into the box and onto the foot of Ambrosh. After quickly moving the ball onto his right foot, Ambrosh buried the shot to put his team ahead.

The score remained at 1-0 for nearly 25 minutes, and the Prep was really handling things well on the defensive end. But in a split second, East Boston found itself alive again when junior midfielder Roberto Dubon broke into the offensive zone, dribbled around a defender, put the ball on his left foot and hammered home a goal to tie the score at 1-1.

But instead of getting deflated, St. John’s buckled down and kept working. It paid off just a minute and a half later when the Eagles got another throw-in in the offensive zone. This time, the ball was thrown in to Najim, who wasted no time and knocked home the eventual game-winning goal.

“The best part about both goals was they came on clean finishes by our guys,” Crowell said. “And to get the game-winning goal just one minute after they scored their goal, that was huge for us.”

Now, the Eagles (15-2-4) move on to face No. 3 Lincoln-Sudbury in the Division 1 North final Saturday.

“We’ve won two games on penalty kicks and won this one in the final 10 minutes, so I would say we’re a battle-tested group at this point,” said Crowell. “We’ll be going up against a very good team from the Dual County League, and we’re going to have to bring our very best if we want to pull out a win this weekend.”

St. John’s and Lincoln-Sudbury will face off in the sectional final Saturday evening at Manning Field (5).

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