||Nearing the end of his fourth and final season in The Hill boys’ soccer program, Chance Antonio ’19 had never scored a goal for the Blues. He could not have picked a better time to snap his goalless drought. With eight minutes left in the boys’ soccer match at Mercersburg Academy on Saturday, October 27, Antonio won the race to a loose ball and, from 25 yards out, dipped a first-time shot just under the crossbar to break a 2-2 deadlock. Antonio’s goal stood as the match winner and clinched a Mid-Atlantic Prep League-best eighth league championship for The Hill.
“When I saw the ball pop back in my direction, my first instinct was to shoot,” Antonio recalled. “I was about 25 yards from goal, but I did not think twice. I think I even heard Coach Drowne yell ‘take a hit’ from the sidelines as I approached the ball. When my foot connected with the ball, it just felt right. As the ball traveled through the air, I had a feeling in my gut — I knew it was going in. Once the ball curled into back of the net, I did not quite realize what I had done until I heard the roar of the crowd and turned around to see my teammates rushing towards me. It felt surreal.”
One month ago, most would have dismissed Hill in the discussion of 2018 MAPL title contenders. A 1-0 loss at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy on September 29 concluded a six match stretch in which Hill lost five times, scoring just one total goal in those five losses. With a record of three wins and seven losses, as well as an injury list that seemed to grow each day, things looked bleak as the calendar turned to October.
“We graduated 13 players from last year’s side and entered this season with the youngest team in program history,” said head coach Chris Drowne ’89. “Injuries to five starters early in the season forced some of our new, younger players to log major minutes against a daunting list of opponents we faced in September.”
On October 5, Hill traveled to Peddie School for the first MAPL match of the fall and returned home with a 2-1 victory, the first win over Peddie since 2014. The following week against Hun, the team’s MAPL title hopes nearly took a severe blow. The visiting Red Raiders led until the 68th minute, when Hill netted a pair of goals in quick succession to take a 4-3 lead that the defense would preserve. A week later, Hill defeated Blair Academy to improve to 3-0 in league play.
“The experience our younger players gained in September was invaluable when we began league play in October. Our confidence grew stronger, while at the same time we received an added boost by players returning from injury,” Drowne said. “That said, a team only gels with steadfast leadership from accomplished captains who have keyed PAISAA title runs in Euan (Forrest) and Aidan (Sullivan).”
Meanwhile, Mercersburg also had accumulated a 3-0 record through their first three MAPL contests. Based on other schools’ results in league play, Hill and Mercersburg entered Saturday’s match knowing the winner would be crowned league champions.
Hill and Mercersburg have played several classic matches in recent years, and with the MAPL crown at stake Saturday’s match promised to deliver another memorable match. The hosts converted a corner kick to open the scoring in the sixth minute, only to see Aidan Sullivan ’19 pull Hill level off a corner kick just two minutes later. Late in the first half, Josh Shepherd ’20 scored to give Hill a 2-1 lead, but the Blue Storm would score off another corner in the 55th minute to equalize.
As the clock ticked below 10 minutes it began to feel as though, if there were another goal to be scored in regulation, that goal would be enough to win the match as well as both defenses were playing. Shortly after a Hill throw-in near midfield, Jordan Mugisha ’20 gained possession of a loose ball and delivered a serve into the box. Mercersburg’s left back cleared Mugisha’s service into the central part of the pitch just outside the 18-yard box – one of the most dangerous areas for a defender to clear the ball. Antonio was first to the ball, a step ahead of his Mercersburg opponent, and hit an arcing, first-time shot that cleared the Mercersburg keeper’s outstretched fingertips and dipped just under the bar to put Hill ahead, 3-2. From there, Hill turned its attention to shutting down Mercersburg’s attack and seeing out the victory.
“Everyone on the team this season has worked incredibly hard to turn our tough start into a championship season,” Antonio said. “Without them, I would have never been in the position to make that shot. This goal was not about me, but the championship our program has been feverishly chasing for the past five years.”
It is Hill’s first MAPL championship since 2013. Falling just a goal short of the league title a year ago made this year’s championship feel that much more rewarding, according to Drowne.
“In many ways this is a very special MAPL title for us, mostly to me because none of these guys had experienced a MAPL title, coming one match or one goal short three of the past four years,” Drowne explained. “To do it with the three longest bus rides and a new team speaks to the tremendous resiliency and growth of this year’s side. Nobody picked us, in Pottstown or beyond, for this which has provided a great storyline for future teams.”
Although Hill has clinched the league title regardless of Saturday’s result against rival Lawrenceville, the team has its sights set on avenging last year’s loss to the Big Red and finishing the slate with an unblemished league record.