Teetering with its back against the edge of the playoff bubble, Ardmore found its footing behind a brick wall in Jona Cardamone and clutch finishes, surging back into the District 4A-3 playoff race with a deceptively cozy 3-0 win against the Harrah Panthers Tuesday.
The regular season is a few weeks away from ending, but Ardmore's postseason began Tuesday night, said Ardmore coach Ryan Keeton, crediting his goalie and the entire team's playoff intensity in practice for the massive win.
"We’re back in the hunt,” Keeton said. “We came out hungry and played at a really high level. The playoffs for us are already underway, It was win or go home and we’re back in the race for the third or fourth playoff spot. We’ll have another elimination game on Friday.”
From the opening kick, Ardmore blitzed Harrah’s backline with aggressive counter attacks. The Tigers' speedy midfielders and forwards kept breaking free only to be flagged for a series of offside calls.
After frustrating the Tigers with a corner kick and a would-be goal resulting in raised flags and Harrah's keeper booting the ball back into play on a goal kick, it appeared Ardmore's aggression and intensity was playing right into Harrah's hands.
But in the eighth minute Ardmore's attacking third timed its run just right.
After being fed an outlet pass on the counter, Ardmore midfielder Xavier Russell crossed up a Harrah defender and broke inside, linking a perfectly weighted cross to the feet of Ricky Soto.
From just outside the box with a defender breathing down his neck, Soto broke his stride and sent a clinical strike off the bounce, banging a low, screaming volley toward the far post.
The goalie had no chance, hitting the ground well after the ball rattled around the inside netting. This time, the flag stayed down, and Ardmore claimed an early 1-0 lead.
Following the classy display, Ardmore’s early offensive attack began to fizzle. And for the next 67 minutes, the game shifted into a battle of attrition as the Panthers' offside traps and pressing lines inched the ball toward Ardmore's half. Harrah, also in a must-win game, kept sent numbers forward, peppering the Tigers with shots on goal.
Four nights earlier, the Tigers lost a pair of one-goal leads and a 2-1 advantage in the second half before succumbing to late pressure in a 5-2 loss. But against Harrah, Ardmore goalkeeper Jona Cardamone sent everything back, keeping his sheet clean with a litany of diving saves.
“Jona played a gem of a game in goal,” Keeton said. “Harrah had a lot of chances, especially late, but Jona handled the pressure and carried us."
With the brick wall weathering the storm, Ardmore got some much needed insurance in the 75th minute on a corner kick.
After registering an assist in the first half, Xavier Russell showcased his aerial ability, heading the dagger home to give the Tigers a much need cushion.
Then, minutes later Raphael Interiano joined in on the scoring action, finishing off a cross from Soto to seal the Tigers' 3-0 win.
The result and Madill's 3-1 loss to Dove Science last night puts Ardmore neck and neck with Madill for the final two spots in the District 4A-3 playoff race with one game remaining. Madill owns the tiebreaker following last week's win over the Tigers.
Ardmore (5-5, 2-3) will close out the regular season at home against Community Christian (6-4, 1-1) Friday. Community Christian currently sits in fifth place in the district standings with four district games left in district play.