Win it for Justin.
It’s been the mantra for the Archbishop Molloy boys soccer team since teammate Justin Thompson was shot in the back last October, a random act of violence that has confined him to a wheelchair ever since.
On Tuesday night at Belson Stadium, the Stanners did what they sought out to do, beating Fordham Prep, 1-0, to capture the CHSAA Class AA intersectional title.
It is the first city title since 2009 and 14th overall for the perennial powerhouse, which has won 16 consecutive games. It’s also perhaps the most special championship for longtime coach Andy Kostel.
“You’re not going to get better than this,” he said.
Kostel had just wheeled Thompson onto the field after the final whistle and the former two-sport athlete at Molloy celebrated a well-earned title with his teammates while Molloy fans chanted “Justin, Justin, Justin.”
“That’s exactly what we’re playing for. We want him to have these moments,” Molloy co-captain Zach Zayas said. “We’re proud of him. We know it’s been a hard ordeal, what he’s gone through. We’re his team, you know? We want to make things as awesome as possible for him.”
Zayas made sure of it. As he did in the 2-0 semifinal win over Regis Sunday, Zayas worked hard to find space and send a cross along the end line to Daniel Corridan at the near post. Corridan then played the ball across the face of goal where Mike Mendez pounced to break the deadlock in the 67th minute.
“That’s what coach was telling us the whole time, that when we get that chance we have to put it away,” Mendez said. “Fortunately we were able to do that and now we’re champs.”
Mendez was also instrumental in the semifinal win over Regis as a playmaker with a great pass to Denes Kostel for the insurance goal.
It impressed Andy Kostel, who issued a challenge to Mendez leading up to Tuesday night’s final.
“I said Mike, that was a tremendous play, but you still have to prove to me that if you had the chance to shoot, you’d shoot it,” Kostel said. “He did exactly what he needed to prove to me.”
Anchored by Eric Alerte and Tommy Arikian, the stout backline made sure Mendez’s goal stood up. Rarely were goalkeepers Nick Dorcean and John Young tested as the duo combined for a third straight playoff clean sheet and 13th on the season.
Molloy (17-1-0), ranked No. 2 in New York City by MSG Varsity, has only allowed three goals in its last 11 wins.
The biggest star Tuesday night, though, was clearly Thompson, who proudly clutched the championship trophy as he took pictures with his band of brothers.
“It felt good,” Thompson said. “I’m glad they played hard and they won. They promised me they would win and they did it.”
Both Molloy and Fordham Prep (14-4-0) advance to the CHSAA state tournament this weekend. The Stanners take on the winner of Wednesday night’s Rockville Centre final between St. Anthony’s and Chaminade, while Fordham Prep meets Buffalo-area champion Canisius.
The semifinals will be Saturday night and the final is Sunday afternoon.
It’s two more chances for Molloy to win for Justin.