By Jean DePlacido Correspondent
The Salem News
---- — DANVERS — St. John’s Prep soccer captain Brooks Clark let his play on the field yesterday show why he’s a team leader.
Clark scored a goal and assisted on another as the Eagles claimed their third straight Catholic Conference championship with a 2-0 victory over rival B.C. High yesterday.
Goalkeeper Ben Alpern of Beverly recorded his 10th shutout of the season for St. John’s Prep, which allowed only one goal in eight league games while winning them all.
“It took a team effort,” said Prep coach Dave Crowell. “They’re out biggest rival, and I was confident our kids would step up to the challenge.
“This game had a state tournament feel to it, even though it wasn’t a lose-and-go-home situation (as in the state playoffs). We played our game, possessed the ball and made them chase. I was especially pleased with the way we managed the game in the last five minutes, even though we didn’t score. That’s something we’ll need to do in the tournament.”
Needing a win or tie to win the title outright (a loss would’ve meant they’d have to share the crown with B.C. High), the Prep came out fired up. The hosts took a 1-0 lead on a head ball by Levon Kazelyan off a corner kick by Clark in the 25th minute of play.
Clark then added an insurance goal for St. John’s (13-1-1 overall) in the 52nd minute when he scored on a penalty kick, putting the ball into the top left corner and out of the reach of B.C. goalie Rich Froio. It was Clark’s sixth goal of the year and third on a PK.
“We knew B.C. High (11-2-1) was very good because we played them a couple of weeks ago (a 1-0 Prep win),” said Clark. “On that corner kick, I put the ball at head level and Lev connected for the goal.”
That goal was a big momentum changer, because the visitors had come out strong to start the second half and took advantage of the Prep’s trouble clearing the ball. Alpern made a big save in the 49th minute, robbing Zack Coggins’ bid off a corner by leaping up and catching a head ball. It was one of eight corners for B.C. High in the second half.
“I didn’t see too many shots, but did have a couple of scares,” said Alpern. “Toward the end of the game they kept getting corner opportunities and did a good job putting the ball in the middle. One time on a cross, their kid (Emmet O’Callaghan) almost directed the ball into the corner after it skimmed the post. Fortunately, he missed.
“Brooks is our go-to-guy. He’s great on penalty kicks and corners. Out of all the years I’ve played, this team works the hardest. We’ve all been playing since freshman year and have a lot of heart.”
The Eagles needed a big performance from several players because they were without Tommy Buonopane. The senior striker/midfielder from Peabody was out with an ankle injury suffered in practice, and Crowell isn’t sure when he’ll be back.
Junior Anthony Vigliotta took over for Buonopane and played well. He had to come out briefly in the second half after being hit in the mouth, but was right back out there with a piece of gauze in place to stop the bleeding.
“Vigliotta was one of the guys frustrating them because he’s fiery and fiesty,” said Crowell. “We miss Buonopane because he’s a key guy with speed and tons of energy. He makes us go, but Anthony stepped in for him and did the job.
“Nate Schmidt is another hard worker who dominated the middle once again. He wins so many balls in the midfield game after game and takes a beating, too. Our right back, Matt Brady had a big game, especially since (B.C.) averages close to four goals a game. They put a lot of pressure on, but once we went up by two they had to come forward. They had three guys up front.”