By Karen Sangillo
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/5/19
Conestoga’s Julian Grove probably said it the best.
“What a game,” said Grove, a senior. “It was crazy.”
It was a back-and-forth affair but in the end, Conestoga came out on top, defeating league rival Radnor, 8-7, Tuesday in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals at Harriton.
Brendan Murphy (3G, 2A) scored the game-winner with 3:11 to play off a Joey Allen feed, and the Pioneers (21-3) fought hard to hang on.
They lost the subsequent face off, got the ball back but turned it over with nine second to go. But the Red Raiders could not convert.
Conestoga (21-3), the District One champion, will face District 12 champion La Salle (21-5), an 11-10 double overtime winner over Springfield Delco, in the title game at West Chester East on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Conestoga and La Salle have met four times for the state title (all when there was only one classification) in the first 10 years of PIAA play. La Salle won the battles in 2009 (7-3) and 2013 (13-4) while Conestoga took the 2010 (13-6) and 2012 (10-7) meetings. Conestoga also fell in the AAA finals in 2017, 5-4 to Avon Grove in double overtime. The Pioneers also defeated La Salle, 10-7, this year.
“We’re going to practice every day and work hard and stay focused,” said Grove, who plans to play club lacrosse at Southern Methodist next year. “We got to the semifinals last year and got beat by La Salle. It’s the best feeling to be going to the final. I can’t even describe it. We’ve been wanting this all year. This was the goal.
“The season is in three phases. Regular season is the first phase, and then districts, and we won districts and we won the regular season, and now we’re just trying to go all the way.”
“We got to the state final and lost it in double OT two years ago (to Avon Grove, 5-4) so we’ve been right there. I think this is our year. Having the experience that we have at this level is helpful and also the group of guys that we had last year was great. We had about 20 seniors last year and a majority of those guys went on to play at college. They taught us well. We feel mentally prepared for every game.”
It was the third meeting of the season between the two programs. Conestoga won a regular season game on March 28, 11-7. They met again in the District 1 semifinals, an 11-6 Conestoga victory.
“We knew exactly what was coming,” Grove said. “They’re a really good team and especially trying to beat a team three times in one year makes it harder.
“The first two times we played them the energy was really up because they’re our rival, they’re right next to us. Coming into this game we were so mentally prepared because we knew we had to be 100 percent or we’d lose. We knew they wanted to beat us that much more.
“They knew all of our plays. Before the game we switched the names of our plays so they wouldn’t know what was coming.”
Graham Blatchford (3G, 1A) started things off for Conestoga before Jackson Birtwistle (4G) tied it. Just before the first period ended, Murphy took a pass from Grove and made it 2-1 with just .02 left.
Blatchford gave the Pioneers a 3-1 lead but again Birtwistle responded for the Red Raiders. Murphy scored to give the Pioneers a 4-2 edge, then Damien Ramondo pulled Radnor within 4-3 at the half.
The Red Raiders got goals from Ramondo and Birtwistle to take a 5-4 lead, but Patrick Reilly took a pass from Murphy and flicked it home and and Will Schnorr scored with 45 seconds to go in the third period to give Conestoga a 6-5 lead.
“When they scored I think it was three goals in a row I started to get a little nervous but honestly I knew we were fine,” Grove said. “We just had to get some possessions on offense.”
Blatchford extended the lead to 7-5 with the first goal of the fourth quarter at 7:45. Radnor got back-to-back goals from David Azzarano and Birtwistle to tie the game with 5:05 to go.
Radnor, which finished third in District 1, ends the season 18-7.
“It’s disappointing,” said Birtwistle, a junior All-American who is committed to Marquette. “Obviously, this was a big game for us because we wanted to get to the state championship. I thought it was a good back and forth battle, but they got the better of it at the end.
“We put up a good fight. Our guys never let down. We did a good job of just moving the ball and getting good shots.”
“This was a big moment for us, to reach the semifinals. It hurts to lose, but it’s definitely a big experience thing for our guys. Hopefully we’ll get back here in the next couple of years. We have a young team. We have a lot of guys returning and this loss is going to be on our minds next year.”
Conestoga 8, Radnor 7
Radnor 1 2 2 1 -7
Conestoga 2 2 2 2 -8
Jackson Birtwistle 4g
Damien Ramondo 2g
David Azzarano 1g
Jack Dooley 1a
Drew Brown 1a
Archer Darrach 13 saves
Brendon Murphy 3 g, 2a
Graham Blatchford 3g, 1a
Patrick Reilly 1g
Will Schnorr 1g
Joey Allen 2a
Julian Grove 1a
Mick Lee, 7 saves PJ Hewitt 10/16 faceoffs