The usual suspects were rounded up for applause after Towson State and Drexel played to a 1-1 tie in the East Coast Conference soccer championship yesterday, but Frank Assaro deserved a hand, too.
The Pellegrini brothers, products of John Carroll High, were recognized as co-Most Valuable Players of the tournament. Mike, a junior forward, staked Drexel to a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute. Rich, a freshman goalie, had several superb saves and eight overall as Towson State withstood a 30-shot barrage by the visiting Dragons.
Joe Layfield, the regular-season MVP in the ECC, forced the overtime with 9:29 left in regulation, when he converted a pass from Chris Kelley.
When all were being trotted out in a postgame ceremony, Towson State junior defender Assaro stayed in the background, even though he had kept Mike Pellegrini under wraps for the final 113 minutes. Assaro didn't get much notice this fall, but he made the most of what will probably be his first and only season at a four-year college.
"I hear people say 'Frank can't do this and he can't do that,' but he's got a huge heart," Tigers coach Frank Olszewski said. "He's been an inspiration to us, and it's a shame we couldn't have him for a couple more years."
Towson State won its first ECC title in 1989, and this time around Assaro and Rich Pellegrini were the only rookies to start for a veteran team. That's not the most accurate tag to throw on Assaro, however, because this 22-year-old has been around.
A 1986 graduate of Archbishop Curley, Assaro spent the '86 and '87 seasons at Essex Community College. He sat out the next two seasons, however, because his family needed his help running a sub shop on Belair Road.
"This is my fifth year out of high school, so technically I don't have any more eligibility left," Assaro said. "We're going to appeal to the NCAA though, and maybe I'll be able to play here next year."
Assaro and the rest of the Towson State defense sweated out the final 13:39 of overtime, as sophomore sweeper Lance Johnson was called for a penalty kick infraction and then ejected for dissent. The Tigers stayed alive when Steve Keppler missed the attempt, and then held on while finishing a man down.
It wasn't a fitting ending for Keppler, a senior midfielder out of Arundel High who is a four-time ECC All-Star. Pellegrini, who has 29 career goals, and Craig Dickinson, a junior sweeper from England who spent the last two years at Essex, were also ECC all-stars.
Adding to the Baltimore flavor for coach Johnson Bowie's Drexel team was freshman midfielder Mike Stallings. He played at Calvert Hall, just like Layfield, his cousin. The Dragons, champions of the Philadelphia Soccer Seven, finished 13-4-2, a school record for wins.
Towson State ended 12-6-2, matching the school record for wins set in 1979 and tied last year.