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Lesson learned, Johnson and Episcopal Academy hold off Malvern Prep

NEWTOWN SQUARE >> Cole Johnson knew he’d be in for a busy defensive day Tuesday with Malvern Prep coming to town.

That might not seem the ideal occasion for the Episcopal Academy midfielder to push the envelope by jumping into the rush and presenting an option in the attacking half. But when Johnson decided to do so in the first quarter, it set a definite tone.

Johnson scored twice in the first quarter and set up the game-winner by Jake Martellucci in the fourth as Episcopal Academy outlasted Malvern Prep, 9-8, in a rainy battle between frontrunners in the jammed Inter-Ac.

“I think the D middies on the team pride ourselves on being two-way middies and running up and down the field and staying in condition,” Johnson said. “So attacking on offense is something that we like to do but is not always the option when you’re playing defense a good amount.”

Johnson notched the first two tallies for the Churchmen (7-2 overall, 4-1 league), starting 1 minute, 45 seconds into the contest. Nate Emrick also had a hand in two first-quarter tallies — setting up Charlie Cunniffe on the doorstep, then receiving a similar feed from CJ McAnally.

Episcopal Academy’s Jake Martellucci (11) fires home what proves to be the game-winning goal past Malvern Prep goalie Andrew Clark. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

With that quick start, EA never trailed. Malvern Prep (10-4, 3-2) tied the game at four 65 ticks into the second quarter on the first installment of Quinn McCahon’s hat trick, but Martellucci’s goal in the first minute of the fourth amassed a 9-5 lead that the Churchmen had to lean upon.

Before Martellucci’s goal, the game bore a striking resemblance to the first meeting with Haverford School two weeks ago, in which the Churchmen held a 9-7 lead in the third. That day, the Fords scored seven of the game’s final nine goals for a 14-11 victory.

Tuesday, EA was intent on preventing a repeat.

“I think we learned from that,” Johnson said. “We’re learning how to play with a lead and just keeping hold of that.”

Part of Episcopal’s growth is on the defensive end, where the Churchmen kept the clamps on a potent Malvern offense. From McCahon’s goal early in the second to a Jack Traynor tally three minutes into the fourth, EA surrendered just one goal over 25 minutes of game action.

They minimized the danger posed by Malvern’s passel of attackers and forced the Friars into an uncharacteristic number of turnovers. Only two of the Friars’ goals were assisted, both by Billy Coyle, and EA goalie Jake Floyd-Jones provided eight saves, including four phenomenal third-quarter denials to stem the tide of a rally. Malvern also had two goals correctly waved off for crease violations.

By the time the Friars came to terms with what was working, creating off the dodge in one-on-one situations, there was too little time to mount a comeback.

“That was just all on us, concentration,” McCahon said. “We’ve struggled with that the whole season. But I think as we got into the second half, we concentrated more, we got into a groove a little bit better.”

“We really have to work together as an entire unit, bumping guys across, making good slides and lookaways,” EA defender Conner Delaney said. “And we just have to trust each other. When we’re guarding guys, we have to trust our short sticks, and our short sticks did a great job today sticking to the plan.”

EA built up its cushion with three unanswered tallies late in the third and early in the fourth. Connor Ringwalt fired into an open net after Chris McCoun sensationally snagged a Malvern clear attempt. Martellucci stepped out in front of the cage and buried a shot high with eight ticks left in the third, then stretched the lead to four 52 seconds later.

The result continues the trend of uncharacteristic parity in the league. Malvern, among the preseason favorites, has lost to both Haverford School and EA in the first turn of the schedule. EA’s loss to Haverford was mitigated by the Fords’ loss to Penn Charter for the first time in a decade and a half.

As a freshman, Delaney saw Malvern go undefeated and earn the consensus No. 1 ranking in the country. Ditto for Haverford School as a sophomore. This season, the sense of possibility in the Inter-Ac is unprecedented.

And that leaves the door wide open for the unheralded Churchmen, under first-year coach Chris Bates, to prove wrong all those that underestimated them.

“It’s wide open,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting. It’s a big opportunity. Coming into this game, that was one of the keys, that it’s a big opportunity. We’re excited for the rest of the league season.”

“I think everyone knew what Malvern and Haverford had before this year,” Delaney said. “We were kind of doubted a little bit. I don’t love looking at the rankings, but we weren’t even ranked to begin the season because we had a down year last year. But we knew what we had. We knew we had a great senior class and a bunch of young kids who were going to be able to step up and to be in this position at 4-1 halfway through the league, it’s really promising for us.”

Also in the Inter-Ac:

Haverford School 14, Springside Chestnut Hill 9 >> TJ Malone marked his return from a three-game absence with four goals and two assists, and Luke O’Grady and Scott Deck each tallied hat tricks as the Fords (8-4, 4-1) led 8-2 at halftime and never looked back.

In the Central League:

Springfield 8, Radnor 1 >> James Spence put together a masterful performance, stopping 12 shots to set the program record.

The two-time All-Delco goalie Spence has 758 career saves, passing 1995 graduate Kevin Keenan (749) for the all-time Cougars lead. Spence shut out Radnor for three quarters before Kyler Albany’s late tally.

Mike Tulskie led Springfield (10-2, 6-1) to a 10th straight win with four goals. Kyle Long dished five assists.

Haverford 11, Harriton 4 >> Jack Daly scored four times and dished two assists, and Cole Lukasiewicz added a hat trick for the Fords.

Luke McCallion’s 15-for-18 day at the X translated into a goal and three helpers, while Nick DiIorio paired two goals with two assists.

Strath Haven 16, Penncrest 8 >> Liam Carney scored six times, and Jeffrey Conner continued his torrid scoring pace with three goals and five assists as the Panthers blew open a two-goal game after three quarters with four man-up tallies in the fourth.

Tyler Fink added four markers.

Dave Stevens scored a hat trick for Penncrest, while Joe Quintiliano and Joe Nichols notched two goals apiece.

Marple Newtown 18, Upper Darby 5 >> Alex Viola paired four goals with two assists, and Jake Long and Alex Funk each registered hat tricks for the Tigers.

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