BOYS SOCCER: Behind family chemistry, Rochester enjoying magical ride to first Final Four since 2002 | North Oakland Sports

BOYS SOCCER: Behind family chemistry, Rochester enjoying magical ride to first Final Four since 2002

| November 2, 2016 | Comments (0)



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ROCHESTER HILLS — The last time Rochester made a run to the Division 1 Final Four, the Falcons ended the season on a high note.

Rochester captured its first and only state title in school history in 2002. That was a year where the Falcons entered the postseason ranked second in the state.

This season, Rochester spent time in the D-1 top-20 but fell out of the coaches association rankings following a 3-0 loss to Rochester Stoney Creek on Oct. 3.

The high-flying Falcons have not lost since, going 7-0-1 despite not being ranked.

“We are like a family,” praised coach Chris Purgatori, a 2002 graduate of Rochester, where he was a four-year starting goalkeeper for the Falcons. “Our chemistry is unbelievable. We play for each other. We don’t have a bunch of superstars. Demitri might be one of the better players in the state, but he is not selfish. No one on this team plays that way. We have stepped up and did this together.”

During the state tournament, Rochester has defeated Waterford Mott (5-0), Lake Orion (5-0), 12th-ranked Stoney Creek (2-1), Hartland (2-1) and 13th-ranked Grand Blanc (2-1).

The win over Stoney Creek claimed the school’s district crown since 2007, while the victory over Grand Blanc marked the school’s first regional title in 14 years.

The Falcons own 13 shutouts as a team and posted a 15-3-5 overall record heading into the state semifinals match Nov. 2 with Troy Athens.

The 13 clean sheets ties a school record set by the 2002 state championship team, with senior Brad Carlson and junior Luke Kastran joining forces in the goalkeeping department.

“Defensively all year, we have been very, very solid. It was evident (against Grand Blanc),” said Purgatori. “Some huge props to my backline and my keeper and the entire team really.”

Rochester’s team goals-against-average is a sterling 0.79 with nine opponents being state-ranked squads. The Falcons have only yielded 18 goals in 23 games all while posting 32 goals as a team.

Rochester has allowed three goals in its last eight games heading into the state semifinals. The stout defensive effort has been anchored by juniors Grant Benedettini, Joel Fickel, Martin Ivezaj and Tyler Sommith.

All of this came after senior captain and defensive leader Chris Labadie was lost over the summer with a torn ACL. The Falcons also lost junior George Zagrodski to a serious knee injury Oct. 3, while three other players in the school opted to compete for the Vardar Academy on the club circuit and not suit up for the Falcons.

“We’ve had to overcome some adversity. We’ve had injuries, we lost some kids to the Academy and we had a couple of bad games in the middle of the season,” said Purgatori. “We’ve put that behind us and united as a team. I think that’s why we have done so well. We’re a team — a family.”

Senior Daniel Iyok has excelled as a holding center midfielder, while offensively, sophomore Grant Ellison has scored 11 goals, followed by senior Demitri Pliakos (10 goals) and junior Sid Osborn (seven goals). Pliakos recently committed to Division I college University of Detroit Mercy.

Ellison notched the game-winner against Grand Blanc, while Iyok scored the clinchers against both Hartland and Lake Orion during tournament play — where Rochester has held a 12-3 scoring edge over five postseason games.

Previously, Rochester’s last lengthy tournament run was in 2007, when the Falcons lost in the regional finals to Clarkston (2-1). Rochester also lost in the regional finals to eventual state champion Warren DeLaSalle in both 1990 (3-1) and 1992 (2-0).

This is the school’s second overall trip to the Final Four in boys soccer. Rochester’s girls team has made the trip four times — 1994, 1995, 2007 and 2013.

“It’s been an incredible run. I know a lot of people have doubted us because (Rochester) Adams, Stoney Creek and Clarkston were in our district and they were also ranked this year. It was such a tough district. But we overcame that to have our best year in a long time. I couldn’t be prouder of these boys for everything they accomplished.”

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