Explorers advance to PCL semifinals

Members of the

La Salle boys’ soccer team leaped into each other's arms after what seemed to be an endless Philadelphia Catholic League quarterfinal.

 Ten or so yards away, tears poured from the eyes of some

St. Joseph ’s Prep players. Other Hawks just stared in disbelief.

 After the archrivals had played 110 minutes to a scoreless stalemate, the Explorers outpointed the Hawks, 4-3, in a shoot-out by penalty kicks today in Fairmount Park.

 The victory not only gained a measure of vengeance for being swept by the Prep (13-5) during the regular season, it earned

La Salle (10-7) a spot in Saturday’s semifinal round against Father Judge. Judge beat Roman Catholic, 5-0, today.

 “I was psyched when went to PKs,”

La Salle goalkeeper Stephen Kelly said. “I have been practicing for that all week.”

 Kelly’s practice paid off — and not just during the shoot-out. The standout played a major role in the victory.

 Kelly had 10 spectacular saves during regulation and the two 15-minute sudden-death overtimes. He followed that up by blocking two penalty kicks. His last save extended the Explorers’ season.

 After a penalty kick by Christian Cruz gave

La Salle a 4-3 advantage in the shoot-out, St. Joe’s needed to convert its next shot on Kelly to keep the match going.

 But Kelly made a diving stop on Andrew McLane’s attempt to the lower left corner of the goal.

 “I saw him glance at this corner,” Kelly said of the left corner. “So I kind of stutter-stepped to [the right] corner. Then I came over here.

 “I saw the team coming at me afterward. It just felt great.”

 Junior Timothy Peifer and freshmen Darius Madison and Gabriel Robinson scored

La Salle ’s other penalty kicks.

 Mike Brennan, Kyle Mullen and Tolani Ibikunle converted the Prep’s PKs.

 Early on, St. Joe’s Prep dominated play. The Hawks had a commanding 6-2 advantage in shots on goal in the first half. Battling back, the Explorers closed the gap to 10-7 by the end of regulation.

NOTE: The Judge vs. La Salle semifinal is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Archbishop Ryan. Afterward, North Catholic will face Archbishop Wood in the other semi at the same site. Admission is $5.

--  Keith Pompey