After waiting patiently behind talented senior goaltender Taylor Cestra last season, James Borriello finally had his chance to become the starting goaltender this season for Plum.
A junior netminder, he started the season strong by stopping 18 shots in a 6-2 victory against Moon Area. But during the team’s third game, in which he made 13 saves in a 9-1 victory against Franklin Regional on Nov. 4, Borriello felt ill.
A trip to the doctor’s office afterward confirmed he had mononucleosis and he would be out for a few weeks.
“I was kind of bummed out because I wanted to get out there as much as I could,” Borriello said. “I had finally gotten my chance to start. But generously, I was given a second opportunity.”
After Plum (7-4-3 after playing Greater Latrobe to a 5-5 tie Monday night) went 0-2-2 in his absence, Borriello came back on Nov. 25 against West Allegheny and stopped all 34 shots he faced in a 3-0 victory. He has continued to be one of the best goaltenders in the league, entering this week in first in Class AA in save percentage (.920) and tied for first in goals-against average (2.13).
“We knew he was talented,” Plum coach Dave Stonebraker said. “James could have started for many teams last season, but he had a strong, senior goaltender in front of him in Taylor Cestra. It wasn’t because of a lack of skill or ability by James as to why he wasn’t starting.
“Now he’s stepped in and filled the void.”
To prepare for the season, Borriello upped his offseason work. He continued to have his weekly training sessions at Bladerunners-Harmarville with Shane Clifford, who worked with Marc-Andre Fleury — Borriello’s favorite hockey player — early in his Penguins’ career.
Additionally, Borriello hit the gym more often and went to the Future Pro Goalie School in June at Valley Sports Complex.
He also got an early start on the PIHL season, as training for his amateur team, the Pittsburgh Select Under-16 AAA squad, began in August.
All the work has helped him provide a steady presence in net for the Mustangs.
“The area where I’m most improved is my consistency,” Borriello said. “Night in and night out, I just try and be there for the team.”
Borriello gave up two or fewer goals in six of his first eight starts, with the only two outliers being two losses to the PIHL’s best Class AA team, Bishop Canevin.
His best performance of the season may have come right after the holiday break when his team traveled up to Erie to take on Cathedral Prep. The Ramblers came in on a five-game unbeaten streak and Plum was without one of its best offensive players, Joey Randazzo, due to illness.
But Borriello stopped 30 of 31 shots and helped Plum escape with a 3-1 victory.
“James stood on his head,” Stonebraker said. “It’s the best I’ve seen James play, for us or for his amateur team.
“You don’t look for your goalie to that every game, although it certainly is nice to have a goalie capable of stealing a win.”