HADDON TOWNSHIP – For the better part of the second half, Nick Mulkay and the Rancocas Valley High School boys soccer defense was under siege.
The Red Devils junior goalie faced a ton of pressure while protecting a narrow 1-0 lead until his team gave him a chance to take a breath.
In the end, he delivered 12 saves Thursday night as No. 9 seeded Rancocas advanced to the South Jersey Coaches Tournament championship game with a 3-1 win over No. 4 Haddonfield in a game played at Paul VI High School.
“It was just constant pressure on us,” Mulkay said. “It seemed like every time we cleared the ball they would get it out. And then they had big throwers who could launch right back in there.
“Everytime we thought we were out of it, they would just pin us back in. It was stressful.”
But Mulkay didn’t budge. Time after time, he placed himself in a position to either make the save or force a shot wide.
He was finally beaten on an odd-ball sort of goal when the Bulldawgs Jack Dugan shot, what appeared to be, a harmless 50-yard lob that somehow found its way into the goal.
But, by then, Dan Arone had added a goal to the one scored by Keegan Teschko in the first half, so the Red Devils maintained a 2-1 lead.
Moments after the Dugan goal, coming with 6:19 to play in the game, C.J. Johnson added the third goal for Rancocas to put the game out of reach.
They victory setup a Saturday night championship showdown against No. 2 seed Washington Township at 7 p.m. at Rowan University.
At that time the Red Devils will be seeking their third tournament championship, their first since 2015.
“It’s been a great journey so far,” said Rancocas Valley coach Damon Petras, whose team has been up and down this season.
“We’re young, and we didn’t have a lot of experience. We’ve built that with some stiff competition during the season.
“The boys are starting to play well and, in this tournament, any team can beat any other team on any given day.”
Petras also talked about what Mulkay accomplished Thursday.
“Nick did a great job once again,” he said. “He’s risen to the occasion. He’s played well in some big games this year. He made a huge save on Dugan that could have changed the game.”
Petras was referring to a shot Dugan had when the score was still 1-0. He approached Mulkay from the left side and had what briefly seemed like a clear shot on the goal.
But the goalie moved out to cut down the angle and make the save.
“They score on that,” Petras said, “and it’s a whole different ball game.”
Mulkay said he learned from experience. He recalled how Dugan beat him on the same shot to give the Bulldawgs a 2-1 overtime win over RV earlier in the season.
“He scored a golden goal against me earlier in the season and I knew I gave him too much room the last time,” he said. “I came out a little bit and I made a left-arm save.”
As rewarding as the win was for Rancocas, it was just as disappointing for Haddonfield, which now looks forward to the Group 2 state tournament.
Coach Ryan Nixon spoke about how his team stayed in contention until the end, and how he was proud of the overall effort.
“It was a tough all around,” he said. “You’re playing a good team on a big stage. Unfortunately I didn’t think a few bounces went our way.”
The teams were in a scoreless tie for the first 35 minutes until Teschko gave the Red Devils a 1-0 lead on a shot that just cleared the goal line.
It remained that way until Arone scored with a shot off his chest that allowed Jeremy McCarthy to pick up the first of his two assists with 8:55 to play in the game.
Dugan then pulled the Bulldawgs within a goal, but Johnson sealed it.
South Jersey Coaches Semifinal
Rancocas Valley 1 2-3
Goals: RV Keegan Teschko, Dan Arone, C.J. Johnson, H-Jack Dugan. Goalies: Nick Mulkay, R, 12 saves, Finn Miller, H, 5 saves