By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 3/18/08
It was the type of early-season, grind-it-out lacrosse you might expect to see between two perennial boys’ powers.
Kurt Watkinson scored off a feed from Mike Rufo with three minutes and 18 seconds to play Tuesday, lifting host Haverford School to a 3-2 nail-biter over La Salle.
The Fords used strong defense and solid goaltending from junior Dan Wigrizer to improve to 2-0. The Explorers, who already had beaten western power Hempfield, 14-7, fell to 1-1.
“It’s March,” said La Salle coach Bill Leahy. “It’s a March lacrosse game, nothing more or nothing less. It was the type of game that could have gone either way, but they had their chance, we made a mistake and they scored.
“That’s what well-coached teams do.”
After a scoreless first period, the Fords struck first as Ben Bourke and Brendan McGrath scored to make it 2-0 in the second period. But La Salle’s Westy Hopkins cut the lead to 2-1 late in the half and tied it midway through the third period.
Both teams jockied for control of the ball in the final period until Watkinson put Haverford ahead with a rifle past junior goalie Niko Amato (11 saves). The Explorers had a chance to tie twice in the final minute, but Wigrizer (nine saves) stopped a drive by Randy Forster with 45 seconds to play and Hopkins fired just wide of the cage as time expired following a full-field pass.
“It’s amazing to beat our in-state rival,” said Wigrizer. “Everybody just stepped up. It’s a huge win for us.”
Wigrizer credited team defense for the success in shutting down the potent La Salle attack.
“I feel our defense is always hustling and sliding quickly,” he said. “Everybody is talking, we played amazing defense. And without the offense we wouldn’t have the defense we have.”
Haverford coach John Nostrant, whose team is ranked 22nd in the nation in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll, is building a new attack and figured he would depend heavily on his defense.
“It’s early and I give La Salle credit,” he said. “We’ve been on a full field for three weeks and I don’t think they’ve been barely on a full field one week. That worries me a little. But we gutted it out and both goalies played well.
“We threw the ball away much more than we did Friday (in a 10-3 win over St. Paul’s, Md.). But we’ll get better. We’re young; our defense is our strength. We said in the beginning of the year if we had to win 3-2, 4-3 or 5-4, we’d take it. That’s what we got today.
“We’re going to have to get a littler more transition. We didn’t do a good job of handling pressure. We’re going to rely on our poles and Danny in goal.”
La Salle’s Leahy, whose Explorers have won 13 of the past 15 Catholic League championships and fell to Downingtown East in last year’s Eastern Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association finals, also has a large retooling project.
“We have four guys that are playing with experience,” he said. “That’s a lot of guys who have to get out there and play. For us the biggest key is growing,
“It’s a work in progress. We have some talented kids. Some look like mice being fed with a firehose. Niko rises for big games, no doubt about it. He made a lot of good saves. I thought our defense played well. We just have to finish our shots.”
Added La Salle senior middie and captain Conrad Ridgway: “We’re just trying to keep our heads up. We made a lot of mistakes, but that’s expected early in the season. We only lost by one, so we have a lot to look forward to. We have a lot of potential.”