With no margin for error in its quest for the Catholic League South title, St. Laurence came out Thursday and unleashed an offensive barrage that not even the Vikings saw coming.
St. Laurence scored five times in the first half and clinched the outright South crown with a 7-2 victory over Providence in New Lenox.
“We just wanted to come in here and play good defense and make sure we won the game so we could win conference,” St. Laurence’s Dominic Pilas. “I never expected to score like that.”
It was a season-high in goals for the Vikings (10-4-2, 6-1). Pilas led the way with a hat trick and Michael McLaughlin scored twice and had an assist.
It’s the third conference title in four years for St. Laurence, which won the Catholic League White in 2011 and ’12.
A loss could have cost the Vikings from winning even a share of the crown as Mount Carmel, which handed St. Laurence its only league loss, came into the night with just one loss and one tie in the conference with two games to play.
“We knew we needed to win this game,” first-year St. Laurence coach Matt Prunckle said. “There were a lot of really tough teams in this conference, so this feels good. It’s probably a blessing and a curse for me to do this my first year. It sets the bar high.”
Emilio Guzman scored off a McLaughlin pass in the 13th minute to start the scoring. Then Mike Witkowski picked off a Providence free kick, raced the other way on a counter-attack and found Pilas for the finish in the 25th minute.
“We ran in and (Witkowski) played me the ball and I just had a wide open net,” Pilas said.
It was a 4-2 game – St. Laurence getting goals from Josh Niloff and McLaughlin and Providence (8-10-2, 2-3) from Bernie O’Donnell and Silvio Gkizas – when Pilas scored off a Nick Imparo pass in the final minute of the first half to give the Vikings momentum going into the break.
“I still wasn’t comfortable at halftime,” Prunckle said. “I told the guys we needed to be professional about this and make the second half as boring as possible.”
St. Laurence did its part, shutting out the Celtics in the second half. Pilas completed the hat trick six minutes in and when McLaughlin headed home a Niloff free kick with 25 minutes left, the Vikings knew the conference crown was theirs.
“I’m glad I was able to help my team seal the conference championship,” McLaughlin said. “There were a lot of tough games and it’s a great feeling to be the champion in this new league with a new coach.”