NEWTOWN TWP. — It took the Lansdale Catholic boys soccer team 13 years to get back to the PIAA Tournament. Tuesday night, it took Holy Ghost Prep just about five minutes to take advantage of a banged-up and depleted Crusader defense.
The District 1 champion Firebirds grabbed the early advantage when Michael Kirby played a ball in the box that was deflected by LC to the far post and in at 35:02 in the first half of the Class AA first-round contest at Council Rock North's Walt Snyder Stadium.
"We have inexperienced corners back there that are very young that we put in and put a lot of pressure on these young guys to step in,' Crusaders coach Joe Wilson said. "You know, if a good team goes at them, they're going to make some mistakes.'
Holy Ghost never let the District 12 champions make up for their miscues, scoring late in the first half, then tallying two more goals in the second half to earn a 4-0 victory and end the Crusaders' season.
"We gave it our all, we played our hardest and the first half, we were still in it, 2-0 is the most dangerous score in soccer,' Lansdale Catholic senior John Melchiorre said. "But we came out in the second half, we knew we were in the game and unfortunately we didn't get that first goal in the second half.
"But we played hard throughout the whole and game and no regrets.'
Kirby also collected an assist while Pablo Platero, Timothy French and Adam Snyder all had a goal for the Firebirds, who advance to the state second round for the third straight season. Holy Ghost faces either District 11 champ Moravian Academy, which beat District 3 third-place side Susquehannock 3-2 in overtime, Saturday in the quaterfinals.
Lansdale Catholic was making its first PIAA appearance since 2000, when it won the District 1 title and reached the state semifinals.
"LC hasn't done this in a while,' Melchiorre said. "We feel really proud getting this far. It was a whole team effort. It was a really good year.'
This year, the Crusaders earned their first District 12 title and made their first Philadelphia Catholic League championship game since joining both in 2008. Wilson is optimistic the program can build up this year's success.
"We're very excited for our seniors. We have 15 seniors, we started with 17 of them when they were freshmen. And these kids have done a wonderful job and worked very hard,' Wilson said. "We're losing five starters, but the players that are coming in place are good players and they got some experience to go as far as we did. We're pretty excited about what next year has to offer.'
The Firebirds doubled their advantage with 3:20 left in the first half on a goal by Platero. Lansdale Catholic was unable to fully clear a HGP attack, leading to Matthew Crawford making a run towards the goal from the right side, then finding Platero alone in front to blast it in.
"I guess it was just a mental breakdown to the whole team, not just the defense,' Melciorre said.
The Crusaders' best chance came for a goal came near the eight-minute mark of the second half, as Michael Lewis lifted a ball over outcoming Holy Ghost keeper Matthew Lingerman, but Jacob Saba's shot at the open net went wide left.
"We put one in there, it goes 2-1, I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on them, it might be a different outcome than we ended up having,' Wilson said.
Holy Ghost made it 3-0 at 24:35 as Kirby's throw-in into the box was headed into the goal by French.
"It was a great throw and they put it in right where they had to put it in,' Wilson said. "I watched some in their games, they did that before when they scored and they got that play down. "
The Firebirds added a fourth goal a little over three minutes later, as Joseph Braun played a ball forward to Snyder running down the middle, with the senior forward deposited it into the back of the net at 21:19.
Holy Ghost Prep's opening tally started with Pierce Skelly's long ball connected with Kirby, who got free down the left end line before playing a low ball in the LC box that got deflected in the air to the far right post and in.
"That's not the first time it's happened this season, though, that we've had a deflection and it ended up being a goal,' Wilson said. "Again, it comes from that inexperience. They work down through that side, they get past Andrew Rutz, who's playing corner who's normally an outside or forward.
"Again we're just putting somebody in there who can give us some presence. Got to have a lot of experience. If you don't have experience when you're playing Holy Ghost, who likes to attack from the outside, it's going to be a long day.'
Follow Mike Cabrey on Twitter @mpcabrey.