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PIAA boys’ championship follow-up: Penncrest defense was key in stopping Avon Grove attack

Sunday, 8th June 2014

Categories Boy's/Men's, High School, Posted 6/8/14
Staff Report

HERSHEY – Saturday’s PIAA final didn’t start the way Penncrest’s Ryan Granger would’ve wanted.

After being limited to three assists in Avon Grove’s PIAA semifinal romp over Radnor, the Red Devils’ top triggerman Tanner Peck got off to a fast start at Herhseypark Stadium with two first-quarter goals.

It had the makings of a long day for the Penncrest defense. Until Granger had his say.

Penncrest's Dylan McCleaft makes one of his 14 saves during Saturday's win (Photo by Rene Schleicher)

Penncrest’s Dylan McCleaft makes one of his 14 saves during Saturday’s win

The sophomore Granger spent the rest of the day in Peck’s pocket. The result was an end to the Penn State-bound attacker’s scoring, a 25-minute hiatus in the Red Devils’ offense for the middle quarters and a 12-7 win for the Lions, lifting the program’s first ever state title.

“We face-guarded him,” Granger said. “We pressed out. I had trust in the defense behind me. I knew they’d pick it up. Bringing me out was tough when he brought me all the way out here, but it worked. And we’re here celebrating.”

As Granger alluded to, it wasn’t a one-man show. Certainly, a defense that has been stout all year with the likes of Ryan Schultz, Kevin Delaney, Liam O’Donnell and a passel of athletic midfielders isn’t a one-man show. After all, it takes a team to silence the likes of Stephen Cyron, Bryce Reid and company as the Lions did Saturday.

But Granger’s star has shone the brightest, with the sophomore often tasked with marking the other team’s main attacker. Often times – against Bishop Shanahan’s John Mehok, Upper Dublin’s Michael Sowers, Peck and others – Granger’s success has directly correlated to Penncrest’s ability to keep its postseason run going.

At least Saturday, he had an easy practice partner to base his approach off of.

“We scouted him like Will,” Granger said, referencing teammate Will Manganiello, who scored five goals in pacing Penncrest’s irrepressible offense. “He plays like Will. Big, physical. He beat me early, and then we changed it up, fixed it up, and he only got two on us. Team defense wins games, and that’s what we did.”

“They switched up the defense a few times, shut me off a little bit,” Peck said. “They just played defensively well, but at the same time, we didn’t move the ball well on offense at all today. We didn’t play our game. We started out real well, and went on that two-goal run at the beginning of the game. They started coming back, and we kind of started trying to do it all ourselves, trying to do too much, one person at a time instead of moving it and playing it as a team.”

Granger and company were made to work hard for their win. The Red Devils got the jump on them early, Peck scoring twice and Beau Kush adding a marker in the first quarter as Avon Grove (22-5) scored three of the first four goals and led 3-2 after one quarter.

But the Lions adjusted, neutralizing the influence Peck had in their offensive sets. It took the entire second and third quarters for the Red Devils to figure the new scheme out, allowing Penncrest to score eight unanswered goals.

The problems started to compound for the Red Devils, who were taken out of their game to a degree few teams have been able to accomplish this season. Combined with a paucity of possession thanks to Dylan Protesto’s 16-for-23 day at the faceoff “X,” Avon Grove started pressing, forcing passes and failing to recognize double teams quickly enough. The majority of their shots were harried, from long range or acute angles, allowing Dylan McCleaft to gobble up 14 of them. Avon Grove also made an uncharacteristic amount of mistakes in squandering what precious opportunities they received.

“You try to keep your composure and realize that if we play our game, we can do the exact same thing they did,” Peck said. “We get a few possessions, move the balls around real well, put a few in the back of the net and we’re right back in the game.”

That never came to pass, though. The Lions started the fourth quarter up 9-3, but down a man for three minutes after an illegal stick infraction on Rob Klodarska, a seldom-used senior midfielder whose biggest contribution this season has been as a vocal leader. The Red Devils clawed back three goals, all via Eric Russo, but the damage was largely contained.

When Ethan Trusty scored his second goal of the game on a dash to the cage nine seconds after the penalty concluded, Penncrest had re-appropriated the momentum, allowing the defense to reset and recharge for the finish.

“We just know if we give them possession, we can work with it. We just need to hold our own on defense,” O’Donnell said. “Not too many people give us credit because we have such a great offense. But once we get our guys moving, we can stop the other team scoring, and the offense opens up the opportunities to open up a huge lead.”

That just left one task: Celebrating. Granger seemed up to that challenge, too.

“We’ve been saying from Day 1 that we’d be here,” a grinning Granger said, a gold medal glistening around his neck. “And we are.”

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