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Here is Mike Dougherty’s game story:
PEARL RIVER — Aidan Noonan plays soccer with all the finesse of a speed bump.
Keio is not a team that can be given any room to maneuver, so Pearl River came into a Section 1 Class A semifinal on Wednesday looking to immediately disrupt every run the Unicorns made. The strategy worked. Noonan and the Pirates were locked on from the start and came away with a 1-0 victory.
Sean Coughlan headed in the game-winner off a Noonan throw-in with 9:32 left in the game.
“They did their homework,” Keio coach David Martinez said. “They pressured us, and whatever we tried to build, they tried to destroy.”
“It was very important we contained them in the midfield because once they get their passes going, it’s hard to stop,” Noonan said. “We had to make sure every time they got the ball there was somebody on their backs, somebody there to slow them down.”
Pearl River is heading for the Section 1 championship game and will take on No. 4 Pelham at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Arlington High School. The program hasn’t celebrated a sectional title since 1995.
After watching Keio up close and consulting with some folks in the know, Pirates coach Damon O’Keefe convinced his team that unrelenting pressure on the ball would eventually wear down a team with great chemistry.
The Unicorns were not able to get organized, and most runs were quickly diffused.
There was plenty of back and forth in the first half, but neither goalie really had to stretch to make a save.
“It’s highly difficult (to play that way and stay patient), but this is what happens when you have great senior leadership,” O’Keefe said of a back line that includes goalie Pat Guerin along with Taylor Rudloff, Vincenzo Galvano and Matt Neroda.
Keio did eventually gain control of the midfield, but only came up with two scoring chances.
Kensuke Hirai sent one ball just wide with 17 minutes to go, then chipped another just over the crossbar a short time later.
The Unicorns got a head on every throw-in before Coughlan found a seam.
“I knew they weren’t going to stop me once I was in the right spot,” he said after sneaking in weak-side and flipping the ball back into the left corner of the net.
“At halftime, Aidan said every single time he was going to throw the ball right to the goalie, so I just ran right in front and made a flip to the back of the net.”
Photos and video by Tania Savayan/The Journal News