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Marafioti peaking at right time as Medaille eyes third-straight AMCC title game

Most of Anthony Marafioti's junior season has not gone as planned.

Fresh off an Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance, the Medaille men's soccer captain was finally expected to assume a more natural position - higher up the field as an attacking winger or second striker - after dutifully serving as center back and right back over his first two seasons.

But even before the calendar turned to September, the electric Australian was shelved with a knee issue, one with an uncertain prognosis. Would it require surgery or would rehab suffice?

Marafioti returned to action too soon, showing rust against nationally-ranked Lycoming and getting sent off for two yellow cards in the process. The winger chose an arthroscopic procedure at the end of September, sidelining him for two more weeks before a 10-minute cameo against Pitt-Greensburg on Oct. 13 proved he was closing in on fitness.

[Related: Hear from Micky Blythe, Mitchell Ali, Lachlan Beever in Mavs' season primer]

After an injury-plagued start to the 2018 season, Anthony Marafioti, in white, has rebounded in style. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

The soft close to the Mavericks' regular-season schedule allowed head coach Micky Blythe to ease the leader back into the side; Marafioti created four goals in the 14-0 embarrassment of Hilbert College in the finale.

Wednesday's marquee AMCC semifinal against Mount Aloysius, a solid foil for the Mavs, proved to be Marafioti's coming-out party against good competition. He confidently called his own number on a first-half penalty kick drawn by Carlos Espana, depositing the game's first-goal in emphatic fashion.

It was the captain's creation of the eventual game-winning goal that was most memorable as, despite finding joy in one-vs.-one battles with the Mounties' left back Luis Miravitlles throughout the match, Marafioti picked his head up early and unselfishly swung in a cross toward leading scorer Lachlan Beever.

"When I get the ball out wide, [Beever] makes my job easier," Marafioti explained. "I don't even need to beat a defender; I look into the box and whip the ball in. You saw with the goal that when they dropped off me, it was 3-v-1 (not in Medaille's favor), and I whipped it in and he still got to it. He's reliable."

Head coach Micky Blythe praised Marafioti's resilience following the victory that propelled Medaille to its third-straight AMCC championship - all against Penn State Behrend.

"It's a testament to who Anthony Marafioti is," Blythe said of the Aussie's ability to bounce back from two injury-riddled months. "He's our team captain - he's got the armband on. The reason is because of the character he's showed since he's been here. [Considering] the injury he had ... and to play at the level that he's played, he lifts everybody in the program. He lives and dies Medaille men's soccer."

The winger said the right things in our chat, but there's no question he's in his element in the offensive third.

"I'm glad to be playing further up forward because I think that's where my skills lie, but wherever [Blythe] puts me I'll be happy," he said. "As long as we're in a winning changing room, it doesn't matter."

Anthony Marafioti dribbles at a defender in the second half of Medaille's win on Wednesday. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Taking on defenders is perhaps Marafioti's greatest skill. He's sudden, deceptive and inventive on the dribble, weaving inside and out as defenders struggle to react. His assertiveness will be vital in the conference championship against Behrend, an organized side that, to be broken down, typically needs its shape to be skewed.

Marafioti relishes the challenge, which arrives at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 3 in Behrend (4701 College Drive, Erie, Pa.). It's certainly familiar.

"Three years in a row we've played them," Marafioti reflected. "If we turn them over this week, then it makes it 2-1 [in Medaille's favor] for the last three years in that tie. I'd love to get three in a row in my time here, but we'll see what happens. As long as we go in with the right attitude, I back us every day."

Anthony Marafioti, Lachlan Beever and Mitchell Ali, from left to right, prepare for the second half against Mount. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

*****

3 more things to know about Medaille soccer

*Conceding first is something Blythe and the rest of the Mavs will hope to avoid Saturday. Mount winger Pau Baran's volley off a rebound was supremely taken, but Medaille did have an opportunity to clear in the moments prior.

In goal scorers Logan Brinsky and Dakota Lange, Penn State Behrend presents more of a threat than Aloysius, which was missing striker and captain Joshua Devlin for all but two minutes due to a back injury.

Defender Ryan Maurer also boasts seven goals for the Lions, but four of those have come from the penalty kick spot.

*We've been a broken record, both on Twitter and in the season primer, in explaining how fantastic freshman forward Lachlan Beever has been this season for the Mavs. His header against Aloysius not only counted as the game winner, but it also marked his 20th tally of the season.

Still, the Australian is more than just a rugged poacher in front of goal; Beever is essential to the side's build-up, too.

"In previous years we haven't really had a big No. 9 that drops in and gets the ball and we can play off him," Marafioti said of the newcomer. "I think that's one of our biggest assets this year.

Lachlan Beever, in white, settles the ball against Mount Aloysius in the AMCC semifinal. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

*A key reserve helped Medaille turn the tide against Mount on Wednesday, with Juan Montoya, a sophomore from Madrid, Spain, claiming the lion's share of the attacking midfielder role.

"[Montoya] came on and settled us down an awful lot," Blythe explained. "He's got so much quality on the ball, and we needed to get someone in the number 10 position who was closer to Lachlan Beever."

The Spaniard is remarkably slick in tight quarters, maneuvering his way out of pressure and keeping the ball moving. There are times Montoya gets caught with the ball on his foot, but he's also capable of wizardry, epitomized by a nifty dicing of two defenders in the second half against Mount.

His ability to keep the ball allowed Medaille to dictate tempo and where the majority of final 70 minutes were played - in Mount's defensive third.

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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