* Follow the Section 1 boys soccer playoffs on Twitter @MSGV_Icass *
After Pelham's 2-0 victory over Spring Valley in the Section 1 Class A quarterfinals on Wednesday, forward Aiden Murray was asked about his ability to score clutch goals. Only a sophomore, he's tallied three huge goals in back-to-back playoff wins, leading the No. 11-seeded Pelicans into a semifinal matchup at No. 7-seeded Lakeland on Thursday.
Murray answered the question with class, crediting his teammates, but before he could finish, goalie Luke Szendiuch interrupted him.
"That all sounds great," the senior joked as he nudged Murray. "But the real answer is simpler — he's just too fast."
And the visiting Tigers simply couldn't keep up. Murray scored with nine minutes left in regulation to give Pelham a two-goal cushion that helped stave off a Spring Valley building momentum late in the game.
Fellow sophomore Ricarti Basso gave Pelham the lead eight minutes into the first half, pouncing on a rebound off a shot from Charlie Livingstone, who had diced his way through the Tigers' defense.
"I was on the back post, just waiting to see what Charlie did," Basso said. "He's a great player and can handle the ball well, so I was sort of just playing off of what he did. He shot and I saw it bounce off the keeper and I went in and took the shot. It felt great."
Szendiuch was spectacular in goal, notching eight saves. He also stopped a penalty kick at the end of the first half. Ricarti's brother Otavio, a freshman, played well as the last line of defense.
"Ricarti's goal was so huge for us as we wanted to keep or momentum from the last win (4-3, 2OT victory against Rye)," Pelham coach Terence Huvane said. "But our defense really stepped up again. Otavio is a special player and he's still so young. Luke — I've said it before, I'll say it again — is the best keeper in Section 1."
Spring Valley gave a great effort, but it didn't seem to be the Tigers' day. Goalkeeper Jose Vasquez was incredible in goal, notching 11 saves, many of which were full extension.
"We didn't play our game," Spring Valley coach Willie Worsley said. "I think we were a little intimidated with the atmosphere, but you have to give Pelham credit. They played a better game than we did.
“I'm kind of old-school. Everytime we step on the field I think we should try and do our best. Today just wasn't one of those days, but I'm very proud of these guys for the effort they have given all year."
Next up, Pelham will get a talented Lakeland team that upset No. 2-seeded Pear River in its quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday. The two teams have not faced each other this year, but the confidence of the last two victories have the Pelicans believing they can do something special.
"We're riding a lot of momentum right now," Murray said. "We have to come out with a lot of fire. We know they'll probably be favorites but that doesn't matter. We have to do this for each other, especially for the seniors, and I think we can win."
One of those seniors, Szendiuch, knows how special this run has been.
"This is it for me," he said. "I keep telling the guys, 'This is the team I want to end my career with ... but not today.' That's sort of been the mantra this whole playoff. It's now or never."
Email Jordan Griffith at JGriffit@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_JGriffith