Prep edges Needham to return to Harvard

NEEDHAM, Mass. --The Eagles weren’t even sure if they were going to qualify for the postseason, needing to win two of their final three games just to get in, but now they have the opportunity to repeat as champions after a thrilling 10-9 victory over the Needham Rockets.

It’s the third season in a row St. John’s Prep will be playing for the title.

“They’ve gone to Harvard every year of their varsity careers,” Eagles coach John Roy said of his seniors. “It’s something special. I think once they got a taste they wanted to go back.”

“To go back there, it means a lot,” said Eagles senior Colin Blackwell. “To start off the season on a rough note, with injuries, and to be able to pull through like this is a big confidence boost, and I’m proud of all the guys.”

Prep (14-7) looked to be pulling away from Needham (18-3) early in the second quarter after a Blackwell (1 G, 6 A) goal gave them a 5-2 lead. But Mark Riley’s solo effort for the Rockets cut the lead down to two, and the teams went to halftime with Prep ahead 5-3.

A flurry of goals opened up the third quarter. Needham sophomore Nico Panepinto (1 G, 2 A) scored just 13 seconds in, only to have Eagles freshman Drew O’Connell score his only goal of the night just over 40 seconds later. Nico’s freshman brother, Mike Panepinto, then scored at 10:56 making Prep's lead just one again. The teams traded goals the rest of the quarter, which ended with Prep in front 8-6.

Riley (3 G) brought the Rockets to within a goal with 2:59 remaining in the game with a thunderous strike from 15 yards out. Just 30 seconds later the Rockets looked certain to tie the game, but Cam O’Leary’s bounce shot deflected away off of the crossbar, which was a common theme for Needham all night hitting the post 5 times.

“That’s the way it goes,” Needham coach Dave Wainwright said about the high number of posts hit by his team. “I do feel there were some momentum shifts that went against us rather than for us.”

But Needham got their game tying goal from Will Stenberg with 1:51 left. Stenberg was a game time decision for the Rockets after suffering a shoulder injury in their quarterfinal games verses Masconomet. But his ability to play through sever pain was a boost for Needham.

“For him just to be able to walk on the field made everyone pick up their head just a little more,” Wainwright said of his All-American. “His mere presence on the field is like having a player coach.”

But the tie lasted just 42 seconds. Blackwell took the ball from behind the Needham net and hit a cutting Matt Scalise with just 1:09 remaining in regulation for the game-winning goal.

“I didn’t want to force it,” Blackwell said about the game winning play. “All I heard Scalise give me a ‘woo’ call, he got it, he had some space and he got a nice one in the back of the net.”

“Colin’s a great feeder,” Scalise said of Blackwell passing ability. “He was just working really well with me, [Dan] Mini, the whole offense.”

The Eagles took some time after the game to enjoy the victory, but will get right back to work in preparation for Duxbury.

“We’ve played Duxbury already this year, but we know that we’ve got our work cut out for us,” said Roy after the game. “Gotta' roll up the sleeves and get back to work because it’s certainly going to be a battle on Tuesday."