RADNOR >> The scoring at Radnor Tuesday night hit a lull late in the third quarter, just when the Raiders clawed back to within two goals of visiting Conestoga.
For three minutes in the third quarter, then another good chunk of time after killing a penalty, the Raiders monopolized the ball and probed for an opening. They tossed multiple looks at the Pioneers’ compact defense, which adjusted and patiently waited out the storm.
And when that failed, Conestoga’s defense was all too ready to lay their bodies on the line.
Conestoga pitched a fourth-quarter shutout, clamping down to pull away with the final four goals of a 12-6 Central League victory.
Radnor outshot Conestoga, 25-15, in the second half, but the Pioneers held a 6-2 edge on the scoreboard.
Goaltender Scott MacMillan contributed 12 saves, but nearly an equal number of shots were waylaid on route — by sticks, chest pads or less comfortable obstacles.
“We worked on being patient, playing patient defense,” senior pole Matt Moran said. “We stopped them whenever we dodged. We tried to slough in, make sure they didn’t get any through passes, and I think we really stuck with it and really shut them down, especially in the second half.”
The defensive intensity ratcheted up when Drew Brown scored at 5:25 of the third to winnow the deficit to 8-6. A lengthy period of Radnor possession ensued, but their looks at goal were few and far between.
Expending all that energy came at a price, and when Tommy Sopko rifled home his second goal of the game at 11:03 of the fourth, it was particularly disheartening to see all of Radnor’s efforts with the ball go for naught.
“We just bided our time and moved it down and scored,” Moran said. “We’re great in transition, so it’s really effective.”
“It’s difficult to stay focused, but we’ve flipped up our offense a couple of times when we had those long possessions,” said Brown, who led Radnor with two goals and two assists. “It seemed to work. We just weren’t executing as much.”
Jackson Birtwistle gets underhanded from Connor Pierce. 3-2 Stoga. 25 ticks left in the first quarter. pic.twitter.com/6uX29elVno
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) April 4, 2017
Conestoga (5-0, 3-0 Central) had no such problem on the offensive end. With its youthful depth, the Pioneers platooned fresh legs in with regularity. Case in point: Reserve attack man Drew Mullen earned the hot-hand minutes and rewarded coach Brody Bush with a hat trick, including a pair of tallies in the fourth quarter to ice the game.
“They’re all great players, and they draw the best defenders,” Mullen said. “That leaves me with a great opportunity to score and do the best thing for my team.”
The “they” – top-liners like Henry Berg, Tate Kienzle and Sopko – were plenty influential. Sopko dished three assists, Berg scored and Kienzle added one and one, while second-line midfielder Clif Madden contributed a goal and an assist.
Radnor’s attacking depth, on the other hand, was less impactful, hence the long and often fruitless possessions. Kyler Albany scored to open the game and set up a Brown tally, but that was it from him. Clayton Proctor found Brown on a smart skip pass with 13 seconds left in the first half to cut Radnor’s deficit at the break to 6-4, but he was otherwise muted. Ditto for Jackson Birtwistle, outside of a late first-quarter underhanded, scoop shot goal.
Tucker Ballbach came through with 11 saves for Radnor (3-2, 2-1), and Chris Austen got the better of James Reilly (who scored a goal) on 12 of 20 confrontations at the X.
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) April 4, 2017
But the big difference came down to Conestoga’s willingness to sell out on the defensive end. A young but talented defense has allowed just six goals per game in the last four outings, and it’s been the source of a stellar start to the season that cements the Pioneers as among the league favorites.
That stems from the dogged determination and occasional disregard for personal well-being.
“A lot of guys were getting hit (with shots), but that’s the plan,” Moran said. “You’ve just got to get in the way, with your stick or your body. Our guys did a great job of that.”
Also in the Central League:
Ridley 10, Penncrest 9 >> Brock Anderson’s fourth goal of the game at 1:25 of overtime gave the Green Raiders the win. Cade Stratton also scored four times.
T.J. Sims led Penncrest with four markers, while Joe Quintiliano posted a hat trick.
Springfield 11, Marple Newtown 6 >> Jack Spence and Joey DeBernardi each posted hat tricks, and Ben Garcia and Liam DiFonzo added two goals apiece for the Cougars (2-2, 2-1). Kyle Long dished three assists for Springfield.
Marlon Weathers scored twice for Marple Newtown.
Haverford 19, Upper Darby 1 >> John Sheivert and Nick DiIorio tallied three goals apiece, and Luke McCallion tallied two goals, two assists and 16 wins in 18 draws for the Fords.
Cole Lukasiewicz pumped in two goals and three assists for Haverford (4-1, 2-1).
Strath Haven 19, Lower Merion 3 >> Jeffrey Conner continued his torrid start to the season with six goals and two assists as the Panthers (5-1, 3-0) who led 15-1 at the half.
Will Huestis added three goals and two assists, and Chris Rosini paired two goals with two helpers.
In nonleague action:
Haverford School 12, Boys’ Latin 11 >> Luke O’Grady scored four goals, and TJ Malone added three goals and an assist as the Fords (2-2) overturned a halftime deficit against the visitors from Maryland.
Connor Devine (two goals, assist) and Peter Garno (goal, two assists) also powered Haverford.
Episcopal Academy 12, St. Joseph’s Prep 1 >> Connor Ringwalt scored four goals to go with an assist as the Churchmen romped. CJ McAnally, Nate Emrick and Will Haab scored twice apiece.