Ramapo holds off Bergen Catholic in county semifinals

Kevin McDonough's PK four minutes into the second half stood up as the winning goal in Ramapo's 2-1 win over Bergen Catholic in the Bergen County Tournament semifinals on Saturday in Ramsey.

RAMSEY – When Kevin McDonough converted a penalty kick early in the second half to give Ramapo a two-goal lead over Bergen Catholic in the Bergen County Tournament semifinals, it felt like the outcome was all but decided. Having given up just five goals in its first 11 games, Ramapo possesses Bergen County’s most stout defensive unit. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, the Crusaders made an adjustment that flipped the script and did something that nearly never happens: BC Ramapo them on its heels.

Sebastian Ortega’s goal in the 67th minute cut the lead to one and the Crusaders had their opportunities late to send the game into overtime. Top-seeded Ramapo was able to hold off the late charge and move one step closer to the defending its Bergen County Tournament title by advancing to the final with a thrilling 2-1 triumph over Bergen Catholic on Saturday night at Ramsey High School.

“We wanted to secure the game and the end of the game didn’t go the way we planned, but we found a way to win,” said McDonough. “Bergen Catholic is very good in the middle. They put a lot of pressure on us late in the game. Our team is a family. We always stick together even when the pressure is on us. We didn’t execute our game plan as well as we did in the first half and early in the second half. We dug deep and we kept our shape when we needed to. To win a county championship we have to dig even deeper than we did tonight.”

The game got off to a rousing start with each team having a quality scoring chance inside the first three minutes. Both netminders, Ramapo’s Antonio Spina and BC’s Kyle Tencza (five saves), made diving saves to keep the game scoreless. Bergen Catholic nearly took the lead near the midway point of the first half when Sebastian Londono’s hit the post on a hard shot from the top of the box.

Sebastian Ortega (right) scored the goal that got BC back to within 2-1 with just under 14 minutes to play.

From that point on the remainder of the half was all Ramapo. The Raiders dominated possession through the middle of the field, but often took one too many touches that allowed the Crusader defense to recover and prevent any shots on net. With time winding down in the first half, the Raiders started to take more chances and finally cashed in in the final minute.

Cole Duschang won a ball at midfield then carried it up the field before sending it up the right flank. Albert Carelli collected it before sending a hard cross across the six-yard box. It skipped through all the way to the far post. Dylan Bodart, who scored his first varsity goal in a BCT quarterfinal win over Garfield last week, was there to knock it home with just 47 seconds left in the half to put the Green Raiders ahead heading into the second half.

The momentum carried over with Ramapo staying on the attack. Off an early corner kick, the Crusaders were called for a handball in the box and the Green Raiders were awarded a penalty kick. Tencza guessed correctly on which side McDonough was shooting to, but the ball was struck cleanly and whistled past Tencza to give Ramapo a 2-0 lead 3:57 into the second half.

“I saw the goalie cheating to the side I wanted to shoot towards, but I already made up my mind that I was going there no matter what,” added McDonough. “I just took a deep breath and made sure I got my head over the ball when taking the shot.”

Antonio Spina and Ramapo will take on Ridgewood in the county final next weekend.

It seemed like a game that was already put away was about to be further out of reach when another potential Ramapo goal was disallowed for an offsides call. Coincidental or not, it lit a fire under the Crusaders. They started to press higher in the midfield and found success in forcing Ramapo to play more of a long ball style as opposed to playing to feet and space. This allowed BC to possess the ball more and take chances in the attacking third. It paid off in the 67th minute as Spencer Neal, who had hit the crossbar a minute earlier, sent a failed clearing attempt back into the box.

Amongst a sea of players from both teams, Conor Morrin collected the ball and toe-poked it through traffic. Sebastian Ortega was in the right place at the right time as he was onsides and there to put it in the back of the net. His team-leading 10th goal of the season trimmed Ramapo’s lead to 2-1 with 13:44 to play.

The Crusaders kept pushing numbers forward to try and net an equalizer. Spina, Ramapo’s rarely tested keeper, was up to the task with a fantastic diving save and then another on a tricky shot that skidded through traffic in front as Ramapo (11-0-1) held on.

Defending Bergen County Tournament champ Ramapo is one game away from repeating as champions. To achieve that rare feat the Green Raiders will have to get past Ridgewood, which needed penalty kicks to knock out Cliffside Park in the other BCT semifinal. It will be another adverse situation for a Ramapo team that prides itself on thriver under such conditions.

“This was a very good test for us, and we had to figure things out on the fly late in the game,” said longtime Ramapo head coach Evan Baumgarten. “When we stopped winning 50-50 balls and started giving away free kicks that’s when we started to run into some trouble. What we’re still working on is that the next play is always the most important one. We’ve always got to get better and it’s a matter of figuring out how to do that each time we play.”