Sports Information Director
MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Coming off their first playoff victory in the history of the Holy Cross men's soccer program, the Saints came out determined on Wednesday night against the No. 1 seeded Cardinal Stritch Wolves. Michael Maiorano (Whitby, Ontario, Canada) got things off to a fast start after turning a miscue from the Wolves into the first goal of the game just 40 seconds in. Although the Saints experienced early success, they faced their share of adversity after two unanswered goals from Stritch had the Saints on their heels early in the second half. This team, however, quickly flipped the script on that adversity and scored three unanswered goals in the second half to pick up the biggest win in program history and advance to the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) Finals with a 4-2 victory.
"I'm so proud of how our team played," head coach Omar Gallo said. "There was not just one individual who stood out in the match, it was an entire team effort. We knew we had difficult challenge ahead of us, however, we felt we matched up well with them after our earlier match this season. The guys had a lot of confidence going into this match coming off the big road win against Roosevelt."
The start from the Saints in the CCAC semifinals could not have gone any better in the early stages on Wednesday night. The Saints opened up with the big wind bursts in their favor and were able to control the offensive attack with constant pressure from the men up front.
A quick turnover from the host Wolves was quickly capitalized on as junior Michael Maiorano took the ball down the right side and fired a shot past the Stritch goalkeeper 40 seconds in to give the Saints the early lead and momentum. The goal for Maiorano was the first of his career.
The Saints continued to carry this early momentum and nearly had their second goal in the first three minutes after a header from Niko Jelicic (Sucuraj, Croatia) was stopped by the crossbar.
Cardinal Stritch, however, was not ready to let a little early momentum quiet them for very long. The top-seeded Wolves regained their form midway through the first half and started controlling the offensive attack.
A corner kick late in the first half gave the Wolves their best scoring opportunity. Josh Roberts nearly scored off the corner as his header hit the post, but the Wolves were able to keep the ball inside the 20. Oliver Bell Struck the ball from the top of the box that flew perfectly over the outstretched hands of Saints goalkeeper Iain McTurk (Copenhagen, Denmark) to tie the score at 1-1. The momentum now was clearly on the Wolves side.
Cardinal Stritch held the Saints to without a shot over the last 18 minutes and took a 9-5 shot advantage to the break.
The second half was a big test for the Saints: on the road against the regular season champs; who was going to be the team that would step up in the half and take control of the game?
The early stages of the second half, however, brought the Saints some bad luck. After two Garbhan Grant (Letterkenny, Ireland) shots were stopped by Stritch, the Wolves found some luck of their own after a deflection off a Saints player resulted in an own goal and gave the Wolves the 2-1 lead in the 56th minute.
Adversity had now officially been put on the Saints shoulders. They knew they needed a response more than ever.
Going into the wind this half, the Saints were able to move the ball up the field. Alex Clarke (Liverpool, England) fed a pass in front to Austin Haire (Porter, Ind.) who answered in quick fashion for the Saints to tie the game at 2-2. Now with the quick response, the Saints had the momentum back on their side.
Both teams continued to trade shots looking for that go-ahead goal. It was senior captain Garbhan Grant who took the ball at the top of the box, dribbled around the defenders to his right and laced the shot in the upper corner to give the Saints the 3-2 advantage in the 68th minute.
Cardinal Stritch continued to pressure the Saints in the late stages of the game and had a shot go off the crossbar in the 75th minute which the Saints were fortunate enough to clear.
A late substitution by Holy Cross in the 79th minute proved to be effective. Alfredo Molestina (Guayaquil, Ecuador), known for his speed up top, came into the game for the final 11 minutes and scored the third unanswered goal for the Saints in the 83rd minute to bring the game to its final score at 4-2. Following the goal, the Saints continued to control the ball and look for shots. As the clock struck zero, the men's soccer team had accomplished what all athletes hope to accomplish: a trip to the conference finals.
As he had done all season long, freshman goalkeeper Iain McTurk came up with big save after big save. Despite letting in the goal in the first half and the own goal in the second, McTurk's calm, cool and collected self, made three big saves in the second half.
10 of the 11 Holy Cross starters played all 90 minutes of action.
"This win from our guys clearly describes what the definition of a team is," continued Gallo. "We had individuals putting their bodies on the line and sprinting to every ball. The ball movement and communication was effective for us which led to success. More importantly, the guys kept their cool when things seemed to get physical. The win is great, however the job is not done. We have to remain focused for Olivet and remember we haven't won anything yet.
"I have to say a special thank you to all the fans that traveled with us to the game. It clearly makes a difference having fans there for us. The support the school has shown has been amazing and we greatly appreciate it. We are 90 minutes away from answering one final question: why not HCC?
With the victory over Cardinal Stritch, the Saints will travel to Bourbonnais, Ill. on Saturday for a meeting with Olivet Nazarene for the CCAC Championship and an automatic berth to the NAIA National Tournament. The game is scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. EST.