By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
As the lone returning starter from last year’s NJSIAA Non-Public Group A championship soccer team, John Askin realized the hopes were not high for his Christian Brothers Academy soccer team this season.
But after defeating Bishop Eustace, 2-0, on Nov. 9, there were the Colts, right back in the state final.
The fact that they lost to perennial power Delbarton, 4-1, on Nov. 12 could not take away the thrill of Askin’s senior season. Asked what he would have thought, if someone told him in preseason that CBA was going back to the championship game at Kean University, Union, Askin replied, “I’d sign up for that 10 out of 10 times. It’s great to get here. It’s nice to win but I’m just happy and proud of the boys for getting to this point. It’s really awesome.”
See more photos from the Nov. 12 NJSIAA Non-Public Group A soccer final, here.
The only thing that would have made it more awesome, would be if CBA could have played 40 more minutes of scoreless soccer. But Delbarton (21-0-1), which has won five state crowns in the past six years, scored four times in the second half to wipe out a 1-0 deficit.
“We had chances, we had opportunities, it just wasn’t CBA’s day today,” said Tom Mulligan, who has been to two state finals in his two years as head coach. “I thought we played CBA soccer for the first 10, 15 minutes of the match.
“We got the goal and then for some reason the game became very disjointed. It was a lot of fouls called, a lot of re-starts, a lot of long throws and we never got back into our rhythm from that point on. We had a couple opportunities to score in the second half, even the first half we had one or two headers that just went wide. Sometimes that changes the game.”
CBA (20-3-1), which also fell to Delbarton in the 2015 final, stunned the Morristown school when Dominic Bellomo scored his team-leading ninth goal of the year from more than 25 yards out just 2:41 into the match.
“It happened so early we kind of shocked ourselves,” Askin said. “I guess we didn’t think it was gonna happen that early. I was talking to Shane (Keenan, goalie) and (Liam) Mulvey in the back, telling them there’s plenty of game left, we gotta play our game.”
Shortly after that, Delbarton began to dominate possession and started launching shots on or around the goal while keeping the play in CBA’s end. One blast went off Keenan’s face and he shrugged it off and just kept making saves (11 total).
CBA sprinkled a few shots in between the onslaught, and had a nice chance with the clock running down when Joe Lozowski dribbled up the right sideline, cut across the field and sent a ball in that Jack Gill headed just wide of the goal.
After intermission, Delbarton became the early scorer when Brendan McSorley tallied just 1:23 into the second half. Less than 12 minutes later, Ethan Fabricant converted a cross from Will Stroud and Delbarton had the lead for good.
With CBA forced to push its players up to get the equalizer, Delbarton took advantage as Brendan and Liam McSorley each scored in the final 20 minutes to put it away.
“We held them to a clean sheet in the first half, they got one early in the second half and I was like ‘All right don’t worry, it’s just one goal,’” Askin said. “After the second one, coach pulled me up and left only three in the back so the last two goals you can’t really say we fell apart. It was just a different formation than we were used to playing and they put two in. They just played the better game in the second half, there’s nothing you can do.”
Mulligan did not feel his team started playing too defensively to protect the lead after getting its early goal.
“With this team I’ll take a goal every time and take my chances for 80 minutes if I have to,” he said. “We got off to a good start, and the game changed. I guess Delbarton forced us to change our game, I’m not sure. We had a couple of defensive breakdowns and they capitalized on them. You can’t do that at this level, plain and simple.”
And while he was unable to become a two-time state champion and win his final high school game, Askin continually reiterated what a great two years it was for him. He congratulated Delbarton for being the better team and beating the Colts to most balls, and said “You just gotta tip your cap. I’ll be fine. I’ll move on from this.”
He will do so with the pride of knowing that he, along with fellow co-captain Lozowski, provided tremendous leadership to a new group of players.
“It was definitely a lot harder than last year,” Askin said. “Last year I was kind of their wingman. They did their thing and I was in the back kind of cleaning up. This year I took on a leadership role and I wanted that.
“The other guys on the team stepped up tremendously and I’m so proud of them, to be their teammate this year. I know that next year they’re gonna come back firing strong and they’re gonna bring this back to where it belongs. I’m really proud of them, how they performed this year.”
Mulligan wasn’t interested in talking about next year just yet, but he was interested in talking about Askin.
“This was 2017 and the seniors deserved every bit of energy and everything we could possibly give them,” the coach said. “The kids will be disappointed today, but I think they’ll look back on the season and know that they upheld the tradition of CBA soccer as well as any team has in the past. I’m proud of them.”
As for Askin, Mulligan said, “John leaves it all on the field every single game. When John makes a mistake, I turn and I look at my assistant coaches and say, ‘There’s still no one else I’d rather have out there than John Askin.’ So he’s gonna be sorely missed. I wish him well, he’s had a tremendous career at CBA.”