DOVER — Salesianum and Appoquinimink have played in the DIAA Division I boys soccer tournament the last two years, splitting the games. But it was likely a game earlier this regular season that was on the minds of the top-seeded Sals when they took the field on a chilly night at Dover High School in the semifinal round on Nov. 16.
Back on Sept. 24, the Jaguars, the fifth seed, hung a 2-0 shutout on the Sals, handing the defending champs their lone in-state loss of the season. In the rematch Wednesday night in Dover, the Sals absorbed went at the Jags early and broke the game open with three first-half goals on the way to a 3-1 victory and another trip to the finals.
The Sals will take on the third seed, Wilmington Charter, who defeated No. 7 Sussex Central, 3-0. It will be another rematch for Salesianum. They defeated the Force, 2-1, on Nov. 1 in the final game of their regular season.
It didn’t take long for Salesianum to apply pressure. They earned a corner kick in the third minute, and a header was saved by Appo goalkeeper Riley Buzby. They kept pressing, and in the eighth minute, the got on the board. Jake Ross sent a ball down the right side toward Gianluca Marroni, who was able to chip the ball to the left of Buzby and into the net.
Marroni returned the favor five minutes later. He targeted Ross with a pass, and Ross drove down the right side and drilled the ball into the net to double the lead.
The Sals had an opportunity in the 20th minute to expand the lead further, but a free kick from about 26 yards out by Tyler Cifa went wide. Appoquinimink did get a long free kick near the net shortly after that, but it was rejected by the Sals, and the Jaguars nearly took advantage of a Salesianum turnover in the 18-yard box before Brandon Ibarra-Sanchez cleared the ball.
Salesianum goalkeeper Zach Bittner was called upon to make a save off Pierce Sautter in the middle part of the half, and Bittner punched a free kick offering out of the box. Another Appo free kick, this one from 36 yards out, ended up in Bittner’s mitts.
A yellow card on the Jaguars proved costly in the 34th minute. Paris Pappas lined up to take the resulting free kick from 25 yards out, and he curled it around the wall and just inside the right post. Buzby kept the Jags’ deficit at three goals with some nice saves before the end of the half.
There was a bit of a buzz inside Dover Stadium at the beginning of the second half when Appo’s Dylan Everett solved Bittner, knocking one inside the left post. Bittner came up with a big save two minutes after that, knocking down a free kick and jumping on the loose ball. Buzby matched that with a diving save in the 53rd minute.
Salesianum kept the pressure on, rarely allowing Appo to get decent looks at the net. With a two-goal cushion, the Sals were able to keep an extra man back to clog up the passing lanes.
Sallies finished with a 12-4 shot advantage and had a 5-3 edge in corner kicks. Bittner had three saves. The Sals improved to 15-2. Their game against Wilmington Charter will begin at noon at Dover Stadium. Tickets are available only at www.gofan.com/app/school/DIAA.
Buzby finished with eight saves for the Jaguars, who completed the season 12-4.
In Division II action, Saint Mark’s, the third seed, outlasted No. 2 Indian River, winning by a 4-2 score in penalty kicks at Caesar Rodney High School in Camden-Wyoming. The Spartans scored a first-half goal, but the Indians leveled the score late in the second half. After two scoreless overtime periods, the game went to PKs, with Saint Mark’s winning that round, 4-2.
The Spartans will meet No. 1 Caravel on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Dover High School. Tickets are good for both games, but if you leave the stadium, there is no re-entry.
All photos by Mike Lang.