By Jean DePlacido Correspondent
The Salem News
---- — DANVERS – After being ousted from the Division 1 North tournament the last two years by Acton-Boxborough, St. John’s Prep had something to prove yesterday afternoon.
The Eagles played a tight defensive game and made the game’s lone goal, scored by senior Levon Kazelyan, stand up in a in a 1-0 quarterfinal victory over Acton-Boxborough before a large home crowd, which included a lot of students and the entire football team.
“We dug deep today,” head coach Dave Crowell said of St. John’s Prep (16-1-2). “They have a lot of speed, but we never let them split us with through balls.
“Our guys did a great job defensively. That’s been our strength all year, and the defense was outstanding today when we needed them to be strong.”
The fourth seeded Eagles will now meet top-seeded Masconomet (18-0-2) tomorrow night at Manning Field in Lynn (7:30 p.m.) in the Division 1 North semifinals.
The game’s lone goal came 13 minutes into the second half when Tommy Buonopane knocked down a head ball after a free kick, and Kazelyan drilled a perfectly placed shot into the top left corner that A-B goalie Andrew Hoang had no chance to stop.
“I just turned around and hoped for the best,” said Kazelyan, who notched his eighth goal of the season. “I wanted to let it go quickly. At the time I didn’t think that would be the winning goal, but I’m so glad it held up.”
Buonopane, a senior from Peabody who is like the Energizer Bunny in that he hustles all over the field with a motor that just won’t quit, was delighted to give the visiting Colonials (13-2-3) a taste of its own medicine.
“This is such a nice win, especially against that team that knocked us out two years in a row,” he said. “We won the 50/50 balls and the second chance balls. Nobody on our team ever gave up. All the credit on the goal goes to Lev; we run that play all the time in practice. What a beautiful finish.”
Crowell didn’t dwell on his team’s two previous heartbreaking losses to Acton-Boxborough: on penalty kicks a year ago and a 1-0 setback in the pouring rain in 2010.
“We didn’t focus on the two losses because that would be too negative, but they were in our minds,” said Crowell. “It stinks that a team like that has to go out this early. To tell the truth, I’m surprised we were able to shut them out.
In the early going Acton-Boxborough (13-2-3) won most of the 50/50 balls and had a couple of good scoring chances, but one shot was just wide of the corner and the other sailed over the net.
St. John’s began putting pressure on midway through the half, and although the game was scoreless at intermission the Eagles were controlling play.
“This was a very even game, and we were expecting that,” said A-B coach David Baumritter. “Both teams had maybe 2-3 chances; they scored on one with a good turn and finish. We try not to give away free kicks, but we did — and they capitalized.”
The Prep defense was so dominant that the visitors didn’t get a shot on goalie Ben Alpern of Beverly until the final 14 minutes of the game. Alpern faced only two chances all afternoon, even though the Colonials brought everybody up trying to score the equalizer.
“Ben’s a presence back there and and takes charge of the defense,” said Crowell. “They did have one great chance early in the game, but the kid (Jeremy Abreu) put it over the net.
“We had so many big performances today. Brooks Clark took charge of the midfield and got things under control. Sean Kelly had a great game at defensive center middie, and Nate Schmidt was outstanding at center mid. I thought center back Bruce Ocko and the other backs, Matt Brady and Cory Lang, were all great.”
Crowell also had plenty of good things to say about Buonopane, who played three different positions in the victory.
“He was all over the field and his work rate is phenomenal,” said Crowell. “He’s a baseball player, and he’s got a great vertical leap. What a job he did winning that header and knocking it down for Lev, who uncorked a strike. Buonopane is such a great athlete; he puts us over the top in a close game like this.”