By Matt Chandik
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 4/4/17
Scott Smith is far from an average freshman.
The Conestoga rookie committed to playing college lacrosse before he ever took a single high school class when he verballed to Johns Hopkins this summer. While he was thrilled to become a Blue Jay commit so quickly, he knew it wouldn’t mean much when it came to finding playing time on a loaded Pioneers defense.
It wasn’t long before Smith barreled his way into a starting spot on the Conestoga defense, though. The Pioneers lost Barrett Pittman for the season with a torn ACL and projected starter Jackson Niness suffered an injury that will sideline him for a few more weeks, and suddenly, Pioneers coach Brody Bush was forced to rely on his touted freshman much quicker than he probably would have liked.
Smith is doing just fine, though. Tuesday, he caused a pair of turnovers, scooped up three ground balls and helped stymie the Radnor attack in a 12-6 Conestoga Central League win. True to form, though, Smith wasn’t entirely pleased with his performance.
“Our defense really came together and that’s all I can ask for,” Smith said. “When Jackson went down, it was a really big shock to the team because he’s a really big part of our defense.
“I wanted to step up and do my best and take on a bigger role, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We play really good team defense, so even if we get beat, we try to slide hard and recover back to the crease.”
The Pioneers (5-0, 3-0 Central League) will add to an already-stacked lineup when Niness eventually returns, but his absence opened the door for more players to earn playing time and develop. That’s going to go a long way not just this year, but in the future, especially since Conestoga only has five seniors on its roster this season.
It doesn’t hurt to have goalie Scott MacMillan as the last line of defense, either. The junior was stellar yet again, denying 12 shots and playing a major hand in a clever hidden-ball trick that James Reilly finished. It’s obvious that MacMillan is much more comfortable both in the cage and in the clearing game as a second-year starter, and that confidence has a huge effect on the Pioneers.
“The second year gives you a lot more confidence,” MacMillan said. “This year, I feel like I’m seeing the ball better, I’m less intimidated by all the shooters and I also kind of know the teams.
“I know Radnor, I know how good they are, I know their top players and it’s helped me a lot. (The defense) has really stepped up. If we didn’t have them, we would not be winning games right now.”
An explosive offense has gone a long way for the Pioneers, too. They’ve scored at least 11 goals in every game, and against the Raiders, they used a 6-2 stretch in the second half to put the game out of reach. Bucknell signee Tommy Sopko continued his torrid start to the year with two goals and three assists, while Drew Mullen snapped home a hat trick as part of a balanced offense.
The Raiders (3-2, 2-1) kept it close until the fourth quarter, when a 4-0 stretch put the game out of reach. It showed the difference in depth between the two teams. Conestoga rolls with three midfield lines, while Radnor used seven short-sticks all game. Drew Brown led the hosts with two goals and two assists, Kyler Albany paired a goal with an assist and Chris Austen won 12 of 20 faceoffs.
“They started playing really good defense and we started getting tired,” Radnor midfielder Phil Regan said. “We kind of got stuck, we were tired and not moving our feet.
“Once they stopped our top players, it was kind of hard for our secondary guys to get going. (Conestoga) made a lot of good passes and they played on their ‘A’ game. I think to get better, the biggest thing for us is figuring out everyone’s role. We don’t really have a superstar, so we’re still figuring out who our go-tos are, but I think by the end of the season, we’ll have a good idea of what we’re doing.”
Conestoga 12, Radnor 6
Radnor 2-2-2-0 – 6
Conestoga 3-3-2-4 – 12
Conestoga (5-0, 3-0)
Drew Mullen 3g
Tommy Sopko 2g, 3a
Cliff Madden 2g, 1a
Henry Berg 1g, 1a
Tate Kienzle 1g, 1a
Nick Braendel 1g
James Reilly 1g
Kent Hjelm 1g
Nick Cost 1a
Hunter Gregory 1a
Will Bryan 1a
Scott MacMillan 12 saves
Radnor (3-2, 2-1)
Drew Brown 2g, 2a
Kyler Albany 1g, 1a
Ryan Peter 1g
Jackson Birtwistle 1g
Connor Pierce 1g, 1a
Clayton Proctor 1a
Tucker Ballbach 11 saves
Chris Austen 12-for-20 faceoffs