By Matt Chandik
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 4/17/18
If there was any doubt that Conestoga is the team to beat in the Central League, the Pioneers emphatically proved Tuesday night that the road to the league championship runs through Berwyn.
Nick Cost buried four goals and added a pair of assists, Tate Kienzle scored twice and set up three more and James Reilly had a goal and an assist to go along with a 20-for-26 day at the faceoff X as Conestoga rolled over previously unbeaten Strath Haven, 17-9, in a battle of the final two league unbeatens.
The Pioneers (5-0, 6-4) jumped out all over Haven, racing out to a 7-1 lead after one quarter and never relenting. In a showcase of the Pioneers’ offensive depth, nine Conestoga players recorded at least one point, including a hat trick from Kent Hjelm and two goals apiece from Will Schnorr and Sean Bailey.
“I think (the Panthers) were definitely a good matchup,” Reilly said. “We had one explosive quarter that I think really put us ahead. That was a huge boost for us, kind of knowing that we have a cushion the rest of the game when they go on runs, where we still have a five, six, seven-goal lead. It definitely helps us mentally.”
It’s hard to come back from an early deficit of that magnitude, but the difficulty is compounded when you can’t get the ball. Reilly was once again masterful, winning his first five draws and going 15-3 in his last 18 draws. When the Georgetown signee and his faceoff unit brought the ball down to the Conestoga attack, the Pioneers responded with an onslaught of shots. Haven first-half goalie Will Brake was very good in the cage, denying 10 shots, but the sheer volume of chances gave the Pioneers the breaks they needed.
“I think we’re finally finding ourselves,” Cost said. “We struggled a bit in the beginning of the year, but I think we’re really coming together. We just rallied together, played hard and played good team ball. We just play together.”
There isn’t one superstar scorer for the Pioneers, but playing against them can be death by a thousand paper cuts. Conestoga had sharp ball movement against the Panthers (4-1, 8-1) and the Pioneers rarely took bad shots. Despite some early struggles against a loaded nonleague slate, the Pioneers have piled up double-digit goals in every Central League game, and there are signs that the offense is rounding into form to match a lights-out defensive unit led by sophomore standout Mikey Prestipino in front of goalie Scott MacMillan (six saves), who has a claim to stake as one of the best goalies in the state.
Of course, even a defense that good is going to have to yield something to Jeff Conner. The Virginia midfield signee, who was recently named to the Under Armour All-America game, had another torrid offensive game with five goals and three assists. The good thing for Conestoga, though, was that it limited everyone else besides Ibo Pio, who tallied four times. Conner and Pio were the only Panthers to record points.
“That’s probably the best (defense) we’re going to see all year,” Conner said. “They shut off some options. They press out on the ball really well. When we had the ball on offense, we did what we needed to do, but they have one of the best faceoff kids.
“It’s frustrating when they’re always getting the ball. I just think we need to take longer possessions and keep the ball more on the offensive end.”
Conestoga 17, Strath Haven 9
Conestoga 7 2 5 3 – 17
Strath Haven 2 2 4 1 – 9
Strath Haven (8-1)
Jeff Conner 5g, 3a
Ibo Pio 4g
Will Brake 10 saves
Vincey Palermo 6 saves
Nick Cost 4g, 2a
Kent Hjelm 3g
Tate Kienzle 2g, 3a
Will Schnorr 2g
Sean Bailey 2g
Matt Logan 1g
Kyle Nicholson 1g
James Reilly 1g, 1a, 20-for-26 faceoffs
Cliff Madden 1g, 1a
Scott MacMillan 6 saves