ROYAL OAK — As a goalie, Gregory Altman knows that he probably doesn’t have the edge should a soccer match reach a penalty-kick shoot-out. But that doesn’t seem to reduce his self-assurance one bit.
“It’s a 50-50 shot (to read the shooter correctly). I look where he’s looking and I just pick a side,” the Madison Heights Bishop Foley senior said. “It’s all about confidence, and I try to strive in that.”
Twice this fall, Bishop Foley has extended its playoff run with shootout victories. The latest came last Thursday in a rematch of the Catholic League’s Cardinal Division final against Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett. While Liggett took the Catholic crown on Oct. 4, the Ventures turned the tables this time around, 1-0 via penalty kicks, to earn their first regional championship in 26 years and a berth in the Division 4 state semi-finals.
“We just took the pressure off ourselves,” Altman said. “We told ourselves to do what we do, and we did that today. It’s been since 1997 that we last won a regional title. It feels good to win it in 2023. Our goal is to win states, and we’re still on that journey. We want to finish.”
Only two of five Liggett attempts made it past Altman, while seniors Connor Fitzpatrick, Dylan Barbieri and Matthew Totty were successful for Foley. Totty launched a low line-drive to the left of University-Liggett keeper Preston Barr, which ended the match and touched off a wild celebration.
“I practice free kicks every day, every day,” Totty said. “I always let the keeper pick (a side) and then I go the other way. In my opinion, it’s impossible to save, because if you do your job correctly, the keeper can’t save it.”
The regional final shoot-out lasted just five rounds, which paled in comparison to the 14-round sudden-death epic in Bishop Foley’s district semi-final win over Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest on Oct. 17. In that contest, Foley connected on 11 of its attempts, with Barbieri netting the eventual game-winner.
“That one went to 14 rounds and that was obviously a heart-racer for every PK,” Altman said. “Through five (rounds) we were still tied and it just kept going and going. This one we just stayed confident and stayed true and true, and we won it.”
“It unfolded because the first three players missed their PKs. It took us so long to just get one-up on the other team, and it ended up in a win,” Totty said. “That gave us a bit of confidence, yes, but we’ve been working on our PKs in practice, so we were confident (against Liggett).”
Coach Nino Maniaci agreed that going the extra distance to beat Northwest had a positive effect when the same situation presented itself against Liggett.
“Yeah, I think it got our goalie a little more confident, but I think all in all, penalties (shootouts) are a crapshoot, really,” he said. “We just capitalized. He made some really good saves and we knew what we had to get done to win.”
Before the regional final game reached the shoot-out, both Altman and Barr shut out the opposing team for 100 minutes, through two regulation halves and two overtime periods. Liggett controlled the run of play for much of the match, and had several scoring opportunities in the second half and first overtime from Cass Cooley, Kaden Logan and Sebastian Courtright — although they couldn’t get anything to go in.
“I think we just locked in a little bit more defensively; we didn’t give up any soft goals, we didn’t give them any clean looks. We just hunkered down,” Maniaci said. “We didn’t create as many chances as we wanted to, but these games are won on the defensive side of the ball, so I thought we did a good job.”
It was the first time Foley (17-3-1) beat Liggett (17-2-1) since 2017.
“Every single game during this playoff run we’ve faced some sort of adversity. They just keep working hard; they’ve been working hard all year,” Maniaci said. “I’ve got a very good group. I’m blessed with 11 seniors that are just really solid.”
Liggett had been rated first in the state for much of the season.
“I just want to give a shout to Liggett. I know they’ve been ranked No. 1 all year, and they’re definitely worth the ranking,” Maniaci said. “And I’ll give a shout to my guys. They just keep coming to work, keep playing hard.”
Next, seventh-ranked Bishop Foley faces fourth-ranked Kalamazoo Hackett in the Division 4 semi-final at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Troy High School. The winner will face either Leland or Muskegon West Michigan Christian in the state championship match, 10 a.m. Saturday at Grand Ledge.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Totty said. “We’re going to do our research, we’re going to watch some film, we’re going to rest up like we did for our last game, we’re just going to come back ready to play.”
“They made it here with us, so they’re obviously good as well. We’re just going to keep playing our game and they’ll keep playing theirs,” Altman said. “Obviously I saved the PKs, but I can’t get there without my team.”
The only other Catholic League school left in the MHSAA brackets is Warren De La Salle, which advanced to the semi-finals with a 2-1 victory over CHSL foe Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook. Daniel Makara and Harrison Pertot scored on second-chance kicks early in the first half to lift Thaier Mukhtar’s squad to the Division 2 regional title, Oct. 28 at Fenton High School.
Unranked De La Salle (13-9-0) faces off against Mason (12-2-5) in a semi-final to be played at 6 p.m. Wednesday at North Farmington. The winner will take on either top-ranked Holland Christian or Grand Rapids Christian in the finals, 3 p.m. Saturday at Grand Ledge.