On Friday evening at Krenzler Field at Cleveland State University, the Saint Ignatius Wildcats, the No. 1 ranked in the nation according to Top Drawer Soccer, met their match in the No. 2 ranked St. Benedict Prep Gray Bees.
St. Benedict Prep is an incredibly talented team from New Jersey. The Gray Bees feature players from nine different countries worldwide who traveled all the way to Cleveland for this match played, trying to preserve a 42-game unbeaten streak.
The Wildcats started with eleven seniors to kick the game off. Head Coach Mike McLaughlin ‘85 was confident in his veterans.
“We have a lot of seniors on this team. We started 11 seniors, and they played like seniors,” McLaughin said.
In the first half was neck and neck with possession. The Wildcats seemingly made more of their possession with multiple attacking chances scattered about.
Things were not level for long, though, as just 25 minutes into the first half, Gray Bees’ center back Rhys Armstrong makes a lethal defensive mistake, taking an awkward touch into the middle of the field.
Matthew McLaughlin would take advantage, making a wonderful run past the back line. He played a phenomenal through ball to striker Everett Shorey. The senior put the ball in the back of the net, placing tremendous curve on it and knocking it into the top corner as it deflected off of the goalkeeper’s fingertips.
The Gray Bees kept their calm and still began with some possession-based tactics. As they slowly moved the ball up the field, the Wildcats’ defense was impenetrable. When the St. Benedict front line did find a way around the defense, Allstate All-American goalkeeper Peter Van Euwen was there.
Van Euwen had an excellent match, making some crucial saves throughout the game.
With eight minutes remaining in the first half, the Wildcats moved their way down the field with a deadly attack.
A couple of wonderful passes led to Matthew McLaughlin in the center just outside of the 18-yard box. The captain sliced the ball with undeniable precision and the ball floated over the head of keeper George Silva and into the top corner.
The Wildcats possessed a 2-0 lead over the Gray Bees, trying to break their remarkable 42-game streak without a single loss.
In the second half, the Gray Bees came out guns blazing, firing from all cylinders with a newfound aggression and intensity that we hadn’t seen much of in the first half.
More great stops from Peter Van Euwen preserved a shutout until the 61st minute, when the Gray Bees were given a controversial penalty call. Sophomore Luciano Pechota put in a nice challenge on a good, clean tackle, but it was from the side as the striker went and the penalty was rewarded, despite protests from Wildcats players.
Rhys Armstrong took the penalty, and absolutely belted the ball left of the center of the goal and into the back of the net. St. Benedict Prep now only trailed by one, 2-1.
Just three minutes later, the Gray Bees come back once again with a stunning series of one-touch passes, as captain Zemi Rodrigues slotted in a ball to Marco Chavez. Chavez hit it well past Van Euwen to tie the game.
With 16 minutes to spare, the closing stages of this game had to have been some of the most gut-wrenching soccer I have ever laid my eyes on. In a sense that it was just so down to the wire, it was almost like you wanted to look away, but you simply couldn’t.
Most of the last minutes of the match were played intensely in the midfield. The Wildcats got a chance in the 70th minute with a header from Everett Shorey, but the ball was too high into the air and it took a bounce off of the top of the crossbar and over the goal.
When the final whistle blew, with the game tied. Wildcats 2, Gray Bees 2.
The tie was a disappointment to Coach McLaughlin, who badly wanted to earn the win.
“I always want to win. We had a good chance to win. To decide a game like this on a penalty kick shouldn’t happen,” Coach McLaughlin said. “But I’m really proud of our guys.
I’m really proud of them because a lot of teams don’t want to play St. Benedict’s. A lot of teams back down from them. We went at them as much as we were capable of. They’re special and a different class of program.”
A tremendous effort was given by both sides in conclusion. The Gray Bees are simply one one of the best high school programs in the country. A tie proves that the Wildcats are in that same class of high school heavyweight programs.
“I’m a student of high school soccer, it’s been a big part of my life for 25 years. I follow everything St. Benedict’s does,” McLaughlin said. “In the national polls, this is a big statement for our program. I’m grateful for St. Benedict’s for coming to Cleveland to play us. Games like this are meant for us to get experience for us to get ready for the state tournament. That’s ultimately what our prize is.”
In the end, Coach McLaughlin could not be more proud of his men.
“Every man who was out there was equally as important. It wasn’t a one superstar effort, everyone played beyond what they’ve played in a Saint Ignatius jersey before. It was a great night.”
Editor’s Note: The Wildcats also tied Columbus St. Charles on Saturday, 0-0. A recap of that game will be posted later.