NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Strath Haven head coach Jef Hewlings knows his team is not as loaded as some of the juggernauts around the state, but it makes up for it in a variety of other ways.
The Panthers slow the game down and use the clock to their advantage by controlling the pace. Sometimes they prefer to run and have their attackers take off as soon as they cross the midfield. Other times, Hewlings just sits back and allows his two leading scorers to take over, which is exactly what they did against Central League rival Marple Newtown Thursday night.
Behind Jeffrey Conner’s four goals and three assists, and Will Huestis’ four goals and one assist, the Panthers clawed their way to an 11-8 victory over Marple Newtown in the second round of the District One playoffs. Huestis got things going with the first goal for Strath Haven after Marple’s Tyler Kostack scored the opening goal of the game, and Conner went off for three in the second quarter alone.
Hewlings appreciated being able to just let his two midfielders control the game instead of calling set plays on certain possessions.
“We’re not a deep team and we’re trying to survive a few injuries right now so those guys know they have to stay on the field,” Hewlings said. “They have to play offense, defense and between the restraining lanes. They know when to get off to get their rest, get back on and do what they need to with the ball to get us where we need to be.”
Conner found Huestis late in the third quarter to push Strath Haven’s lead to 8-4. Conner, a Saint Joseph’s recruit, applauded his teammate after the game and felt their previous matchup with the Tigers helped fuel their respective performances.
“Playing them in the past gave us a game plan. We knew what they wanted to do coming in,” Conner said. “We worked in some new plays. (Will) played great and it really worked out for us.”
While Conner and Huestis dominated for fifth-seeded Strath Haven (16-4), Kostack was singlehandedly keeping the Tigers (11-8) in the game. He put six in the back of the net, including three in the final 3:57 and added two helpers to Jake Long and Marlon Weathers. Kostack said his team’s inability to clear the ball out of their zone hurt them in the end.
“I think we slacked on clearing. We didn’t really focus on that a lot in practice,” Kostack said. “We focused more on getting our offense in tune and covering off-ball, where we were struggling all year.”
The Panthers will take on Bishop Shanahan Saturday, and Hewlings has consistently stressed how his team needs to approach each postseason game.
“I think our kids need to know this a grind game,” Hewlings said. “We’re not deep and probably don’t have the most talent in the state, but they just keep battling and grinding, and when they do that good things happen.”