For the second consecutive year, the Gill St. Bernard’s School boys soccer team couldn’t figure out Max Lane.
Lane, the 6-foot-7 goalkeeper for Montclair Kimberly, wasn’t challenged often Monday night, but made timely saves when called upon as the Cougars repeated as NJSIAA Non-Public B champions with a 2-0 blanking of Gill St. Bernard’s at the College of New Jersey.
MKA (19-2-1) defeated the Knights 1-0 in overtime in the 2011 Non-Public B final and previously hoisted the crown in 2006.
It was Gill St. Bernard’s (19-3-2) fourth appearance in the Non-Public B final in the last five years, having claimed the title once in 2009.
Gill had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the game’s first five minutes. Off a throw into the box by senior midfielder Tim DiBisceglie, junior forward Justin Durcan got a flick on the ball to the far post, but Lane was there for the stop.
MKA would make the Knights pay for not taking advantage of the early chance.
In the 14th minute, junior forward Sam Eisen converted in the box off of a feed from sophomore forward Malcolm Dixon for a 1-0 score, and a lead the Cougars wouldn’t relinquish.
“MKA is a very good offensive team and has team speed that stretched us out a bit, especially turning the flanks,” Gill St. Bernard’s coach Tony Bednarsky said. “Even though they didn’t, score, Dixon and (Miles) Hackett gave us a lot of trouble stretching us out and opening up some opportunities for some other players.”
In the waning seconds of the first half, MKA nearly took a commanding two-goal lead. Hackett, a senior forward, blasted a left-foot strike from 15 yards out, but Knights senior goalkeeper Mike Renna made a fully-extended diving save to his left to send the game 1-0 into halftime.
Just four minutes into the second half, MKA found the back of the net for a critical insurance goal.
Coming off of a free kick by Eisen, a shot off the foot of Hackett caromed off the crossbar and out in front of the net where a mess of players fought for possession. Eventually, junior forward Ryan Fennelly flicked it through the mess into the net for a 2-0 lead.
That second goal seemed to light a fire under Gill St. Bernard’s, which was outplayed for the majority of the first half of the game.
“A lot of the seniors realized that it was our last 40 minutes on the field, so we gave it everything we had. It just wasn’t our day,” DiBisceglie said.
Amidst the Knights generating a better offensive push in the second half, they had two exceptional opportunities on net with less than 20 minutes left in regulation.
Senior midfielder Bijan Eizadkhah sent a beautifully-placed cross ball into the box with just over 17 minutes to play that DiBisceglie got a diving header on, but Lane reacted quickly and made the stop.
Then in the 72th minute, Eizadkhah got behind MKA’s defense and flicked one past Lane, but the goal was negated by an offside call.
“Soccer is a cruel game,” Bednarsky said. “I’m proud of our boys. We had a great season. We had some great chances and if anyone of those goes in, we’re in the game and it changes the momentum a little bit.
“The bottom line today was that they finished their chances and we didn’t. I thought from 18 to 18, our boys played their hearts out and went toe-to-toe with a really good team.”
Gill St. Bernard’s will graduate a group of 12 seniors that appeared in three Non-Public B finals.
“I can’t ask anything more from these seniors,” said DiBisceglie, the team’s captain. “We just carried the team and I know the guys after us will carry on the legacy. “