Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/25/17
Matthew Moran betrays no grave secret by revealing that he and his fellow Conestoga defenders were reeling in the third quarter of Thursday’s District 1 Class 3A final at Henderson High.
But the worry that crept in as Avon Grove rapidly erased a three-goal halftime deficit was neither something the Pioneers were used to nor a particularly useful emotion in the moment.
“Honestly, we started getting down on ourselves,” Moran said. “We were doubting ourselves. They were really killing us with those off-ball cuts. And that lead started going away.”
As one of the defense’s seniors, Moran marshaled the unit to a strong finish that helped crown the Pioneers as champs.
Conestoga scored four of the final six goals to edge the top-seeded Red Devils, 14-12, for the Pioneers’ first district championship since 2012.
Highlighting either of a pair of defenses run through for 18 first-half goals Thursday seems suspect. And when Nick Chastain’s goal at 7:16 of the third capped a 3-0 Avon Grove run and tied the game at 10, even Moran would concede that point.
But aided by eight Scott MacMillan saves on the night, No. 3 seed Conestoga muted Avon Grove to two goals over the last 19 minutes, a rare defensive interlude in a shootout in which the Pioneers never trailed.
Conestoga (19-3), the Central League co-champion, will open PIAA play Tuesday vs. a faniliar foe, league foe Haverford High, the sixth-place finisher. Haverford fell to Spring-Ford, 10-7. Avon Grove (19-2), the Ches-Mont League champion, will face District 3 third-lace finisher Cumberland Valley.
“Coach (Brody Bush) calmed us down with a timeout,” Moran said. “He got us in the right mindset, and we just started playing our game again. We just restarted our ‘Stoga lacrosse and played through the rest of the game.”
Five minutes after Chastain tied the game, Nick Braendel restored Conestoga’s edge with an unassisted tally at 2:01 of the third.
“I think that was a big, big momentum-changer because we were tied up,” Braendel said. “The clock runs down and we’ve got to score a goal.”
Sean Bailey doubled the lead before the quarter expired. While Brendan Harman’s quick-strike tally off Nate Hammond’s win of the fourth quarter-opening draw briefly winnowed the deficit back to a single goal, consecutive markers by Nick Cost and Braendel’s fourth of the evening assured the Pioneers of the title.
Cost scored twice, and Tommy Sopko added a hat trick to go with two assists as eight Pioneers found the score sheet. Braendel’s combination of size and speed, though, was the gamebreaker, particularly against Avon Grove’s star-studded defense.
“We knew we were going to have to dodge at their middies due to how good their defense was,” Sopko said. “And Nick’s just such a big guy and he’s so fast that when he gets a head of steam going down the alley, it’s tough to stop him.”
In addition to Harman’s four goals, Joey Borcky scored twice and set up three goals for Avon Grove. Doug Jones added two goals and a helper, and Zach Augustine and Jake Smith each paired a goal with an assist.
But the day belonged to a resilient Conestoga that bent but didn’t break in the second half.
“It feels awesome,” Sopko said. “It’s great to see all our hard work come to fruition, and now we have one more goal left for the year.”
“It’s awesome,” Braendel added. “We’ve just got to move on and go for states.”
Conestoga 14, Avon Grove 12
Conestoga 4 6 2 2 – 14
Avon Grove 3 4 3 2 – 12
Nick Braendel 4g
Tommy Sopko 3g, 2a
Henry Berg 1g
Kent Hjelm 1g
James Reilly 1a
Tate Kienzle 1g
Nick Cost 2g
Cliff Madden 1g
Drew Mullen 1a
Sean Bailey 1g
Scott MacMillan 8 saves
Brendan Harman 4g
Doug Jones 2g, 1a
Nate Hammond 1a
Joey Borcky 2g, 3a
Scooter Whiteside 1g
Zach Augustine 1g, 1a
Jake Smith 1g, 1a
Nick Chastain 1g
Kevin Malone 3 saves
Andrew Spencer 2 saves