By Matt Chandik
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/11/17
Zach Augustine was in seventh grade the last time that Avon Grove made the PIAA championship game. The Red Devils lost to Penncrest in 2014, and there aren’t many fond memories for Augustine from that day.
“We stayed at the tailgate after the game,” Augustine said. “It stunk. Everyone was so bummed.”
Given his chance to reverse those fortunes, Augustine wasn’t going to pass up his shot at being the hero. With the PIAA Class AAA title game in double overtime at West Chester East, the Red Devils made their move. Scooter Whiteside dodged down the left alley and dumped the ball to Brendan Harman, who was coming around from X. Harman deftly snapped a pass to a wide-open Augustine on the back side.
One second later, Augustine was living out every kid’s dream, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to win the state championship. Avon Grove 5, Conestoga 4 in double overtime for the first PIAA championship in school history.
“We didn’t really run a set play. We ran more of a motion,” Augustine said. “Brendan is usually on the right side, but he cut through and I saw him passing. I went around the left side, he went to the right and passed it over the net. Somehow, it just happened.
“The goal was in the way and the goalie’s there, but I just shot it. I saw it hit the net and I just took off. I didn’t even think we won states. I didn’t know what to think.”
That goal was just a small part of the craziness that went into the final minute of regulation and overtime. The Red Devils (23-2) tried to run out the clock while on attack late in regulation and saw an open net, but Scott MacMillan (nine saves) came out of nowhere to make potentially the finest save of the year by sliding back into his crease and putting his stick up to deny a surefire goal.
Three turnovers in less than a minute and a flag on Avon Grove later, Conestoga (22-4) took to the man-up and Henry Berg made the big play. He put a move on a defender at X and skied through the air, dropping in a bouncer with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation to go to tie the game. In the extra frame, MacMillan robbed Whiteside to push it to another overtime.
Nate Hammond (7 of 12 FO) won the second extra stanza’s opening faceoff and the teams traded turnovers. The Red Devils made sure the Pioneers never saw the ball again en route to that elusive first state title.
“That (2014) team paved the way,” Augustine said. “I played with a couple of those guys last year. Seeing all the older kids’ faces – they’ve been there and lost – I didn’t want them to lose again. It’s their senior year and they deserve to win.”
The two teams met in the District 1 final with Conestoga winning a wild shootout, 14-12. Avon Grove made adjustments from that first meeting and baited the Pioneers into a slower, lower-scoring affair. The defensive tandem of Bryce De Muth and Brayden Peck guided a group that made life miserable for the Conestoga offense, stymying a red-hot unit.
“Defensively, we did not play our game in districts,” De Muth said. “It was not us. It was the worst we played all year. I feel that we’re one of the best defenses in the state and we just stepped up today and played how we should.
“We didn’t change anything because we knew we were the better team and we didn’t play the way we should have in the district game.”
The game’s slower style played into the Red Devils’ hands. Conestoga has the weapons and the playing style to get into a track meet with anyone, but Avon Grove successfully harnessed the Pioneers’ horses.
Conestoga was making its sixth trip to the state finals. The Pioneers won the titles from 2010-2012 and lost in the finals in 2013. This was the first year with two classifications.
“They just took some very long offensive possessions,” said Tommy Sopko, who had a pair of goals for Conestoga. “They were slowing the game down and we like to play fast and push it, so that was smart to not let us play to our strength. Their defense was really good, so when we get limited touches, it looks good for them.”
There’s nothing that looks better in Avon Grove’s eyes than that state championship trophy and gold medals.
Avon Grove 5, Conestoga 4
Avon Grove 1-1-2-0-1 -5
Conestoga 0-1-1-2 – 4
Brendan Harman 2g, 1a
Zach Augustine 1g, 1a, GWG in double overtime
Doug Jones 1g
Scooter Whiteside 1g
Joey Borcky 1a
Jake Smith 1a
Kevin Malone 8 saves
Tommy Sopko 2g
Henry Berg 1g
Drew Mullen 1g
Hunter Gregory 1a
Scott MacMillan 9 saves