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PIAA boys’ Class AAA semifinals: La Salle’s offense uses big second half in 7-4 win over Conestoga

Tuesday, 5th June 2018

Categories Boy's/Men's, High School  

By Chris Jastrzembski, Posted 6/5/18

It took some time to get La Salle going in its PIAA Class AAA semifinal matchup against Conestoga Tuesday at Owen J. Roberts. Matter of fact, it took more time than usual for the team to get to Owen J. Roberts in the first place.

La Salle’s Chris Mockaitis scored the tying and winning goals Tuesday (Photo by Rene Schleicher)

And it showed early on, as the Explorers trailed the Pioneers, 3-0, midway through the second quarter.

“We downshifted so big the other night (against Parkland),” said La Salle head coach Bill Leahy. “We played a slow as you can play, and I think we were still stuck in that.”

But once the Explorers shook off their nerves, they looked like a whole different team. La Salle scored seven of the game’s final eight goals en route to a 7-4 win over its District I rival to return to the PIAA state championship game for the first time since 2016.

La Salle will face Manheim Township – a 15-6 winner over Garnet Valley – at West Chester East at 4:30 p.m.

Not only did the Pioneers get early goals Tuesday from Will Schnorr, Nick Cost, and Kent Hjelm, but they also won all six face-offs thanks to the stellar play of James Reilly, who will play at Georgetown next season.

“It seemed like at first, we were worried only about our matchups,” said La Salle senior defenseman Joe Burnham. “Just playing one-on-one defense, which is exactly what it seemed like they wanted to do. But once we started playing as a team and started flowing a little better, we just carried that into the second half.”

The first small spark came late in the second half, as Matt Clibanoff scored La Salle’s first goal of the game to carry some momentum into halftime.

But the true momentum shift happened at the start of the second half. FOGO Connor Helm took his first draw of the day and beat Reilly, which got the Explorer bench excited.

“John (Giuliani) came over to me and straight up said ‘you got him,’” Helm said. “We work together in practice every day, he beats me up a little bit, and we push each other. And I’m where I am because of him and Coach Doc (Kevin Dougherty).”

Giuliani’s selflessness has been part of the culture that’s been instilled within the team since the beginning of the season back in March. Led by a dedicated senior class, with each of their water bottles donning a photo of them altogether, it’s been a total team effort.

“When I was an assistant on the (US) under-19, they spent so much time culture building,” Leahy said. “We spent an awful lot of time just building culture, making a blueprint of what we hope to be. So even if you played great and won by 10 but you didn’t live up to the blueprint, that’s not a great day.”

Helm went 4-of-6 in the third quarter, as the Explorers capitalized on the extra possessions. Ethan LaMond toughened his way through multiple Conestoga defenders and got a high bounce shot past goalie Scott MacMillan to cut the Pioneer lead to one, 3-2.

Junior Chris Mockaitis took over from there. The UMass verbal commit scored the following two goals to give the Explorers their first lead (4-3) of the day, one they would not lose.

After senior Brendan Meagher scored La Salle’s fifth straight goal, Conestoga would get one back with Tate Kienzle’s tally late in the third.

Despite back and forth chances by both teams, La Salle got the big momentum shifting goal from Joey Taylor. From there, the Pioneers began to lose discipline, committing three penalties in a span of 4:13. LaMond scored on one of those penalties to give the Explorers the eventual 7-4 win.

La Salle 7, Conestoga 4
La Salle 0-1-4-3–7
Conestoga 2-1-1-0–4

La Salle
Chris Mockaitis: 2Gs
Ethan LaMond: 2Gs
Joey Taylor: 1G, 1A
Brendan Meagher: 1G, 1A
Matt Clibanoff: 1G
Grant Pinto: 1A
Mike Clibanoff: 7 saves on 20 shots

Nick Cost: 1G, 1A
Will Schnorr: 1G
Kent Hjelm: 1G
Tate Kienzle: 1G
James Reilly: 11-of-15 on face-offs
James McLaughlin: 4 saves on 24 shots

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