DOVER — Salesianum defeated Caesar Rodney for its 19th DIAA soccer state championship on Nov. 20, but the 2-0 score doesn’t really tell the story about how close this game really was. The Riders came into the game as the No. 1 seed in Division I, and they did everything but score on the chilly late afternoon at Dover High School.
The Sals, who were the third seed in the eight-team bracket, received a stellar night from goalkeeer Zach Bittner and two goals from Jake Ross to reclaim the championship after losing to Appoquinimink last year. It was their 17th title in the last 20 years.
Salesianum had the early pressure, consistently driving down the sides of the field and looking for openings for crossing passes. That’s exactly what Noah Holgado did in the first eight minutes, but CR goalkeeper Kaden Childs was there to catch the pass before it could reach any Salesianum players.
Ross got the Sals on the board in the 11th minute. He took a long through ball from Holgado and approached Childs from the keeper’s right. Ross took the shot with his left foot and sent it far side into the lower 90.
Holgado had another opportunity blocked by a Riders defender in the 16th, and Childs made a diving stop five minutes after that. Shortly thereafter, Childs turned the ball over, and the Sals forced him to make a good save.
The Riders went on the offensive for the last 17 minutes or so of the first half. Bittner caught a free kick from CR in the 33rd, and in the next minute, Trevor Sullivan rang a shot off the post to Bittner’s right. A steal in the 36th resulted in a shot going wide for Caesar Rodney.
As the second half unfolded, CR kept the Sals in their own defensive zone for long stretches. One Riders shot was wide, and a free kick was sent over the net.
The Sals took advantage of a chance in the 56th for some insurance. Ross was fouled in the 18-yard box, and he was awarded a penalty kick. He did not miss, and the lead was two. He and his teammates ran over to the front of the bleachers to celebrate with their schoolmates, who showed up in shirts and ties.
Caesar Rodney hit another post in the 65th minute, and Bittner was called upon to make some quality saves as the clock wound down. After 80-plus minutes, the referee’s whistle blew three times, signaling the return of the Sals to the top of Delaware’s high school soccer heap.
Salesianum finished the season 14-4, including 2-1 victories over Delcastle and Appoquinimink in the state tournament. The Riders wrapped up the campaign 16-1-1.
All photos by Don Blake and Mike Lang.