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Amid struggles on and off field, St. Anthony's boys soccer rode emotions to state title

St. Anthony's boys soccer teammates salute their friends

St. Anthony's boys soccer teammates salute their friends and family members in the stands after their 3-0 win over Archbishop Molloy in the state CHSAA championship game at St. John's University on Nov. 10, 2019. Credit: James Escher

In the biggest game of a season that featured a range of trying circumstances, St. Anthony’s earned a victory that resonated beyond the soccer field.

The Friars defeated Archbishop Molloy, 3-0, on Nov. 10 to win the CHSAA state boys soccer title. Tt was the team’s first since 2014, yet the players and coaches stressed that it meant much more than that.

The game sent head coach Gene Buonaiuto into retirement with a win, and also honored a number of figures in the Friars’ family who dealt with illness during the season, in addition to the memory of former player Ryan Mullen, who died in an accident last season at age 15.

“I couldn't be prouder of the guys for what we were able to accomplish this past year,” said midfielder Matt Mitchell, one of the Friars’ captains. “We really did struggle this year, but we picked each other up and were there for each other on and off the field.

“We would put tape on our wrists every game. On one wrist, we would write ‘R.M. 5’ for Ryan and the other was for our friends’ dad who was ill during the season. Not only were the league and state championships for them, but the entire season.”

The season had its share of adversity on the field as well, as a rough patch meant St. Anthony’s (16-7-2) ended the regular season in a tie for third place in the CHSAA. A coin toss would then determine the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, with the loser having to face four-time reigning state champion and top-seeded Chaminade.

“That was different for us and humbling at the same time," assistant coach Don Corrao said, "but we were also able to look guys straight in the eye and ask: ‘How do you want to be remembered here?’”

St. Anthony’s lost the coin toss, but that would be its final defeat of 2019, as Jake Donahue’s 30-yard goal was the decisive strike in a 1-0 win over Chaminade. In the final against No. 2 Kellenberg, the Friars overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit after Donahue tied the score to force overtime, where Dalton Dancy scored the winner.

Kellenberg’s first-half goal was the only one St. Anthony’s allowed in four postseason games, thanks to a strong defensive effort led by Dylan McCrary, Brian Smith and goalkeeper Christian Micheli.

After Micheli helped St. Anthony’s to a penalty shootout win over Fordham Prep in the state semifinals, the Friars prepared for the championship match, where the season’s final big moment occurred before kickoff.

Said Corrao: “Right before we took the field in the state final...I said, ‘we have to win this for a lot of reasons, and a big one is this is Coach Buonaiuto’s last game.”

“Once we heard that, everybody was locked in,” Mitchell said. “After all the years of work he put in, he deserved to be sent off with a state championship.”

A strong effort ensured this would be the case, as Donahue scored two goals and Julian Wicik added a third.

“This is sweet, to go out this way. It’s great,” the 83-year-old Buonaiuto said after winning his fifth state final to cap a 34-year run as Friars head coach.

“I’ve been his sidekick for 19 years and I’m going to miss him a great deal,” Corrao said, while also praising the players for both sending him out on top and ending a trying season on a high note. “The character that these kids showed down the stretch really puts them in some very special company in terms of the teams that we've coached here.”

Road to the Championship

Catholic League semifinals: Beat Chaminade, 1-0

Catholic League final: Beat Kellenberg, 2-1 (OT)

Catholic state semifinals: Beat Fordham Prep, 0-0, 10-9 on penalty kicks

Catholic state final: Beat Archbishop Molloy, 3-0

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