Konroy Blamo’s 23rd goal of the season put Eastern through to its second consecutive CAAC Silver Cup Final with a 1-0 semifinal win over St. Johns on Monday.
Blamo scored unassisted in the first half for the defending Silver Cup champion Quakers (14-4), who dominated the contest from the start.
“Our fourteen wins were when we scored first, and our four losses were when the other team scored first,” Quaker coach Jeff Davis said. “For some reason, we panic when we’re playing from behind, so getting that goal was really, really important for us.”
St. Johns (6-12-2) was content to defend and look for opportunities to counterattack, a strategy that nearly paid off early when Collin Nurenberg sent Matt Dainton through on the right wing. Dainton got behind the Eastern defense but pushed his shot just wide of the far post.
“We have trouble scoring goals, so defense definitely first and try to win it with a hustle play on offense,” St. Johns coach Karl Hanover said. “We have to find some way to create some (chances) for us. We’re not going to win 0-0.”
But the bulk of the game was played in the Redwing half, although Eastern’s near-constant possession translated into relatively few real scoring chances. St. Johns keeper Adam Zbiciak was first tested with about 13 minutes left in the first half, when Eastern’s Elijah Dennis sent in a hard cross from the right wing. The ball caromed off of St. Johns defender Scott Sperry at the near post and forced Zbiciak to make an acrobatic save to prevent an own goal.
Blamo scored less than three minutes later, when he pounced on a loose ball about 30 yards from the Redwing goal, made a slicing diagonal run into the box and blasted a right-footed shot from a sharp angle over Zbiciak’s shoulder inside the near post with 10:37 left in the first half.
Blamo, last year’s Lansing State Journal Player of the Year, has carried a left knee injury for most of the season, and played with a brace on the knee in this game. While his first step was visibly slower, he said that the brace was more of a problem than the injury.
“It’s getting better,” Blamo said. “It slows me down a little bit, but when I’m in the game, it really doesn’t hurt. I’m not used to playing with the knee brace, it seems like I have a lot of metal on my leg, but when I’m playing I really don’t think about it.”
Both teams clamped down on defense after the break, and while Eastern still dominated possession, they never really got a good look at goal. More encouraging for the Quakers was that St. Johns didn’t either. Eastern’s defense had been their Achilles heel all year, but Davis said that his back line was the key to this win.
“We were really organized in the back today,” he said.
With the win Eastern advances to Wednesday’s Silver Cup Final against Williamston, which they will host, but not on their home field. Quaker athletic director David Panici said that the game will most likely be at Sexton, but the details, and game time, have not been finalized.