Eric Caliendo is No. 1. Seriously.
The St. Anthony's goalie wears uniform No. 1, led the Friars to the Class AAA Long Island/New York State CHSAA title by making 17 saves in a thrilling 8-6 victory over Chaminade Thursday night at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium, and, perhaps more importantly, is the valedictorian of the Class of 2012.
"St. Anthony's always has the connotation of being a jock school, but we focus on academics, too," said Caliendo, who will continue his athletic and academic career at Haverford.
Caliendo was basking in an unexpected moment in the sports spotlight. Before the season started, he was the backup to heralded North Carolina recruit Kieran Burke. But the first week of practice, Burke was diagnosed with mononucleosis and missed the entire season.
"It was a tough situation and he got thrust into the limelight when Kieran got sick," St. Anthony's coach Keith Wieczorek said. "I can't ask for any more than what he did for us."
Caliendo came up big all game, but especially late in the fourth quarter. The Flyers (16-2) were buzzing and Matt Graham, who had scored three straight goals in the third quarter to tie it at 6, was lining up for one of his trademark jump shots. But Caliendo snatched it out of the air, and moments later he made a save on Brendan Caputo's shot to clinch it for the Friars (14-3), who for the second straight season lost both regular-season games to Chaminade but won the title.
"Graham had my number in the last game and in the third quarter," Caliendo said. "I can't even remember those saves. I was just following the ball. I'm told that when you're playing from muscle memory, that's when you're playing your best."
Junior attack Dylan Molloy was at his best, too, scoring four goals and adding two assists for the Friars. He broke a 6-6 tie 1:15 into the fourth on a jump shot in the slot off a feed from Matt Chanenchuk. "That's one of my favorite shots. I practice it all the time," Molloy said.
Said Wieczorek, "Dylan came of age tonight. He's been getting better and better."
So has Caliendo. "The first week of the season the coaches said they had faith in me," he said. "They got me ready. Hopefully, I made them proud."
The first person to embrace Caliendo after the game?
"It was Kieran," No. 1 said.