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Chase Gurcan leads way as St. Anthony's clinches No. 2 seed in playoffs with win

St. Anthony's forward Chase Gurcan is pursued by

St. Anthony's forward Chase Gurcan is pursued by St. John the Baptist defender Aaron Klag on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

The Chase was on.

St. Anthony's forward Chase Gurcan streaked downfield after a nifty long pass was lofted over the St. John the Baptist defense. Gurcan was ahead of the pack but was denied a goal on a save by Nick Maldarella.

But the Chase wasn't over.

Less than a minute later, Gurcan converted a couple of short passes from T.J. Butzke and Zach Capolongo to score what proved to be the clincher in the Friars' 2-1 victory over St. John the Baptist Thursday night in a CHSAA thriller played before a crowd of more than 200 who braved wind, chill and drizzle in South Huntington.

"Really nice soccer. Fast, short passes. Make the defense work. One touch. One touch," Gurcan said, spitting out fast, short sentences that mirrored the Friars' style as they concluded their league season at 9-3 and clinched the No. 2 seed in next week's league playoffs.

Their opponent? None other than St. John the Baptist (7-4), which had won the first meeting, 2-1, on Sept. 30 and will be the No. 3 seed for the semifinal matchup at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Mitchel Athletic Complex.

"This was huge," said Gurcan, a senior who has 15 goals and also assisted on Capolongo's goal in the first minute. "It was the last home game for the seniors and with the playoffs coming we wanted to show that we have the upper hand."

The Friars' defense, led by senior midfielder Beau Hornberger, had the upper hand for much of the game, limiting SJB to a handful of shots on goalie Jonathan Graziosi. But one of those shots got through about a minute after Gurcan had provided a 2-0 lead, as Aidan Keenan netted his 22nd.

Hornberger was especially tough on playmaking midfielder Chris Abruzzo. "That's my job. Win the 50-50 balls and be tough in the middle," Hornberger said.

Thursday night's game, though meaningless as far as Tuesday's playoff matchup was concerned -- No. 4 Kellenberg plays No. 1 Chaminade in the other semifinal -- was played with much verve on both sides. "This gives us a lot of momentum heading into the playoffs," said Hornberger, another senior. "We wanted to send a message."

That message is clear:

The chase for the CHSAA and state titles is on.

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