DOVER — Zach Bittner is used to stopping the ball for the Salesianum soccer team, something he did quite well all season, including in the DIAA Division I boys championship game on Nov. 19 at Dover High School. But late in the title match, won by the Sals, 4-1, he had the opportunity to get on the other side of the score sheet.
With nine minutes remaining in what would become the Sals’ 21st state championship and second straight, Bittner caught a corner kick by the Force. He noticed teammate Paris Pappas streaking downfield and punted the ball in his direction.
“I just looked up, saw the two-to-one advantage, and I just put my foot through it, and went from there,” the senior said.
It was his first assist at Salesianum, but not for lack of trying. “I’ve tried that ball multiple times in a game. That one just connected really well.”
Pappas beat Charter goalkeeper Ryan Terranova to the ball, chipped it over the keeper, and knocked it into the net for the final goal of the afternoon. Pappas, also a senior, said he is always thinking, “Get to the ball,” and that’s what he did on this goal. After he had gotten past Terranova, he was telling himself one thing.
“I’ve got to get it now,” he recalled.
It was the culmination of a postseason for Salesianum in which they put their opponents away early. They led Charter at the half by a 2-0 score, and the lead just grew from there.
Charter came out pressuring the Sals, shooting wide in the first minute of the contest. Bittner was called on to make a save in the fifth after Charter intercepted a lazy Sals pass. After that, however, the Sals turned the momentum, and they would keep it for most of the rest of the afternoon.
A rebound was sent over the Force net in the 10th, but the next chance would not miss. A Salesianum steal led to an advance down the right side by Sean Duffy, and his cross found Jake Ross, who knocked the ball into the net to Terranova’s right for the 1-0 lead in the 12th.
It was his 24th of the season, among the best single-season totals in Salesianum history. Records from the era prior to the arrival of Scott Mosier as coach are a bit murky, Salesianum athletic director Katie Godfrey said. Ross, who will play collegiately at West Virginia, is mindful of the program’s history and some of its great players.
“It’s a blessing to be up with those guys,” he said. “I work hard, and I’m just grateful to be here.”
It didn’t take long for Sallies to double the lead. Just a minute after Ross scored, he started a counter and moved down the right side. His cross was true to Gianluca Marroni, who provided the successful finish.
Ross continued his assault in search of a second goal, sending one wide just after Marroni’s goal, and getting stoned by Terranova in the 20th. A Sals miscue led to a Charter shot going over Bittner’s head, and the Force could not convert two corner kicks in the latter part of the half.
Ross hit a post early in the second, one of several close calls for Salesianum as the game progressed. Terranova did his best to keep the score 2-0, again stopping Ross from close range in the 52nd.
Finally, in the 59th, the Sals struck for the third time. On a corner kick, Brandon Ibarra-Sanchez curled a left-footed shot around the goalkeeper and inside the left post.
Charter answered just two minutes later. After a scramble in the 18-yard box, Davin Lysik turned up with the loose ball and sent it into the upper left corner to make it 3-1, giving the Charter fans at chilly Dover Stadium hope.
It was a Force corner kick, however, that provided Bittner’s offensive fireworks. He caught the inbounds pass, noticed Pappas on the run and fired away.
Bittner was able to watch the end of the game from the sideline as coach Scott Mosier sent backup Radek Osborn into the game for the final four minutes.
“It feels amazing to be here with the team and to celebrate with everyone here. It’s just awesome,” he said.
Ross said he is ready to continue his career at the next level, but he will take many memories from his time at Sallies.
“I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of guys. We worked so hard all season,” he said.
Pappas said the Sals were motivate by their loss two years earlier in the state championship game against Appoquinimink and were determined not to het that happen again.
“It comes up in the locker room. They talk about how it drove them and how they never want to have that feeling again. I couldn’t really resonate with them, but I can always fight with them,” said Pappas, who moved to Delaware from California before the 2021 season.
Final statistics were not available late Saturday night. Sallies finished the season 16-2. The Force went 14-3.
All photos by Don Blake except where noted.