No. 4 St. John's Prep 10, No. 3 Xaverian 9
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DANVERS -- It's not just the regularity with which St. John's Prep's John Jennings lands in the scorebook that's astounding. It's often how he gets there.
Jennings boasts a flare for producing the highlight-worthy goal and Monday proved to be no exception. The junior attack potted the winner -- his fourth goal of the game -- on a spirited run from behind the cage with 6:21 remaining that culminated with an impossible-angle shot that ultimately lifted the fourth-ranked Eagles past third-ranked Xaverian, 10-9, at Cronin Memorial Stadium.
With the win, St. John's Prep (12-2, 6-1) avenged one of its two losses this spring and put itself in position to claim the Catholic Conference title outright provided the Eagles top Malden Catholic Thursday.
They can thank Jennings for that opportunity. Xaverian (13-3, 6-2) rallied from a four-goal, second-half deficit to tie the game at 9 on Brendan Grant's ground ball through the slot with 8:49 remaining.
Jennings, whose most dazzling goal might have been a rebound effort late in the first half as St. John's Prep opened its first four-goal advantage, sprinted out from behind the net and managed to zip the ball inside the post for the go-ahead score a short time later.
In a game with 19 goals, it was almost surprising to see it hold up.
"I caught it and just ran around," said Jennings. "They didn't slide, so I shot it... I just kinda reached around.
"Coach stressed that this was like a Catholic Conference championship game because if we both won out, whoever wins this game wins the title. We wanted this one pretty bad."
St. John's Prep sophomore Garrett Campbell scored three consecutive times over a five-minute span in the second quarter as the Eagles opened a little breathing room. When Jennings' potted his pretty rebound goal with 2:48 to play in the quarter, the hosts led 7-3.
But Xaverian didn't go quietly. Ryan Abely scored before the break to trim the deficit and Chris Rigoli potted two tallies as part of a four-goal, third-quarter outburst that sliced St. John's Prep's lead to 9-8 heading to the final frame.
The Hawks, who led briefly at 2-1 in the first quarter, could never pull ahead again.
"It was everything you expect from a championship game," said Xaverian coach Tim Gardner. "We could have brought home the championship again, and our guys know that, so they were not going to let go of that title easily. I'm proud of my guys for pulling back in it. (St. John's Prep was) simply able to get last score."
The Hawks were plagued by the second-quarter outburst by Campbell, along with maybe a touch of over-aggressiveness in the second half. The Hawks were hitting like Massachusetts had enabled spring football and that led to a number of man-up opportunities for St. John's Prep (one of which the Eagles capitalized on with a Mark Scalise goal with 1:35 to play in the third quarter after Xaverian pulled within a score).
"We started with a zone and they were much more prepared for that than the last time we played," said Gardner, whose troops emerged with a 9-5 triumph in Westwood on April 18. "We were able to get the ball on the floor a few times, but they ended up winning the ground balls, either by bad bounces or by being scrappy. They have good athletes out there, they were able to get the ground balls and went on a little run."
St. John's Prep's defense spearheaded by seniors Brogan O'Connor, John Whitney, and Santo Dettore never let Xaverian embark on a similar run. The Eagles cinched up the middle of the field in the second half and forced Xaverian to attack from the edges and, when the Hawks did generate an unsettled situation going at the cage, netminder Nick Valenti made some key stops.
Asked if he thought Jennings' goal would hold up for the winner, St. John's Prep coach John Roy admitted he did not.
"I never thought any goal would held up, it was too back and forth," said Roy. "Jennings had an impossible angle. But he's like that. Once he has the ball near the goal, he finds a way to score."
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