MADISON HEIGHTS — Although the post-game award ceremonies were abbreviated, and there weren’t any trophies or medals to take home, what mattered most to the Novi Detroit Catholic Central and Royal Oak Shrine soccer teams was that they were Catholic League champions once again.

In games played at Madison Heights Bishop Foley, each involving a pair of unbeaten squads, Shrine defeated Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett, 4-2, to win the Cardinal Division championship, and Catholic Central shut out Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, 3-0, to take the Bishop Division title.

Both Shrine and Catholic Central had won the Catholic League championships in 2018 before being knocked from their respective perches last year, so grabbing the victories Wednesday evening fulfilled important team goals.

“It’s always a motivating factor when people expect you to be up on top,” Shamrocks coach Gene Pulice said. “When you’re defending multiple years in a row and you have a year when you drop off, they’re expecting to come back strong the next year.”

Catholic Central 3, Cranbrook-Kingswood 0

Catholic Central (6-0-3) had won in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 before University of Detroit-Jesuit interrupted the string last year. Pulice said team chemistry took the Shamrocks a long way this fall.

Catholic Central sophomore Drew Pierson seeks to clear the ball late in the first half, while being pursued by Cranbrook’s Garrett Gantz and Bennett Luckoff.

“We’re a brotherhood, our school. I think being a brotherhood on the field as well as at school is one of our big strengths,” he said. “We have veteran players, we have good discipline, and I think we have great leadership. We’ve been here, so we’re composed, and that is a strength.”

Catholic Central controlled the flow early, as the Shamrock backliners and midfielders kept possession away from Cranbrook (5-1-0). Catholic Central took the lead in the 22nd minute, as junior Vincent Stockton was brought down in the goal box and scored on the resulting penalty kick.

The Shamrocks added their next goal less than three minutes later, from sophomore Ali Jaffer, who launched an off-speed, spinning shot that bounced into the net just inside the right goal post. Senior Clay Moscovic closed out the scoring in the second half, as he also scored on a penalty kick.

Detroit Catholic Central gathers for a team photo after defeating Cranbrook, 3-0, to win the Catholic League Bishop Division soccer championship.

“Obviously it was a victory. We didn’t give up any goals. We were fortunate enough to create three goals,” Pulice said. “Defensively, we put a stop to some really good attacks that they had. Cranbrook was playing a little bit where they sat back, but when they wanted it, they attacked hard. We were fortunate enough to break up some of their really good plays.”

Catholic Central prevented Cranbrook — which was playing in its fourth consecutive Catholic League title game — from getting a shot on net until the second half.

Shrine 4, University Liggett 2

In the first game of the evening, Shrine (8-0-3) scored a comeback win after facing a two-goal deficit in the first half. Liggett freshman Claudio Cavallo scored both tallies, the first coming in the seventh minute of play while the next occurring on a breakaway just 30 seconds before halftime.

One would think that would have given Liggett (9-1-0) some momentum, yet Shrine coach Mark Soma took advantage of the halftime pause to re-focus his players.

Senior Jalen Ramirez dribbles the ball up the right sideline for Royal Oak Shrine, which won its second Catholic League soccer title in three seasons by defeating Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett, 4-2, on Wednesday.

“I told them at the break that we weren’t the team I’d been coaching for the last month,” he said. “I expect the team I’ve been proud of and coaching for the last month to show up in the second half, and they did that. We relaxed a little bit of the nerves, we caught a break from the wind, I think the way we played in the second half is more like how we should have played in the first half.”

As a result, it took Shrine just over seven minutes to knot things up. Sophomore Brennan Cannaday scored four minutes into the second half, and classmate Andrew Imai added the equalizer three minutes after that.

It was Imai’s penalty-kick goal in the 56th minute that gave Shrine the lead, and the Knights got an insurance goal from junior Kevin Wright with eight minutes to play.

Shrine and Liggett have faced each other for the Catholic League title for three years running (Shrine has taken two out of the three) and often cross paths in the state playoffs. Their regular-season game this fall had been cancelled, as it was scheduled prior to the season resuming in late September, but the two squads are used to facing each other frequently, often in the post-season.

“We knew a little bit about them — they were missing a handful of players, so they put up a great battle for the players that they were missing,” Soma said. “Seems like we have a hard time playing against them. They have good players and they have a good coach (David Dwaihy), so that’s what makes for a hard time.”  

A happy Royal Oak Shrine team celebrates its second Catholic League soccer championship in three seasons, defeating University-Liggett 4-2 to win the Catholic League Cardinal Division title.

Next, schools begin the state playoffs by participating in the district tournaments scheduled to commence Oct. 14. The state championship matches are set for Nov. 7.

“The post-season is always more fun than the regular season because this is what we’re after, right?” Pulice said. “From the first training session that we get, our goal is to get to the post-season. Now we’re here, everybody’s on fire, we’re peaking at the right time.”