LONDON GROVE – You can’t give the Ches-Mont boys’ lacrosse crown to Avon Grove just yet. But after clearing a major hurdle on Thursday evening, the Red Devils are just one win away from securing at least a share of the title with two regular season contests to go.
Trailing late in the third period, Avon Grove staged a dramatic come-from-behind 8-6 victory over visiting Downingtown East to remain unbeaten in the league through nine outings. The Devils (13-1 overall) will be heavy favorites against Great Valley and Oxford, which is all that stands between Avon Grove and its second outright Ches-Mont championship in a row.
“This isn’t easy,” said Devils’ head coach Eric Jackson. “There are a lot of great teams and coaches in this league.
“Years ago, we were kind of the ones chasing. It’s a different role now. We kind of have a target on our backs, but these guys have earned it. And, to tell you the truth, we want everybody’s best effort because that makes us better.”
Downingtown East certainly obliged, despite taking on its third difficult road game in the span of five days. Although the Cougars fell to West Chester Henderson on Tuesday, they entered Thursday’s clash with a chance to grab a share of first place.
“I am proud of how hard we played and it should prove to our team that we can compete with anybody in the state after these last three games,” East head coach Todd Cliggett said. “We just have to find a way to win them.”
Now 7-2 (11-5 overall), the Cougars fall into third place and out of the title hunt. East got off to a slow start but roared back to take the lead in the third period.
It marked the first time this season that Avon Grove has trailed against a league foe, but the Devils responded forcefully by scoring five of seven goals in the final 15 minutes of action.
“We responded well to adversity today,” said senior attacker Brendan Harman, who led the way with three goals.
“(Downingtown East) came to play,” added Avon Grove goalie Kevin Malone, who turned aside eight shots in the second half alone. “But we come to practice every day with a chip on our shoulders, knowing that we have to play at our best or we could lose just like everyone else.”
Trailing by a goal at the half, East’s Jack Mulcahy had a goal and added an assist (to Brian Miller) to put the Cougars ahead, 4-3, midway through the third. The matched turned, however, when the Devils regained the lead for good with three quick goals in the final two and a half minutes of the period.
“It’s a game of momentum and runs,” Jackson said. “If your opponent has the momentum, the only way to stop it is to make your own run.”
It started with a tying goal by Joey Borkey. Harman and Nate Hammond then followed with two more in the final minute of the quarter, striking just 10 seconds apart.
“We were up 4-3 and were a man-up and we turn the ball over,” Cliggett explained. “That led to two quick ones.
“You can’t mentally break down at any point against a team as talented as Avon Grove. I thought our kids played hard, but Avon Grove takes advantage of mistakes, and that’s how they got us tonight.”
Downingtown East’s Brian Dignen scored early in the fourth to make it 6-5, but Harman and Nick Chastain scored a pair of insurance goals, and Malone closed it out by making four key saves in the final six minutes.
“(Malone) comes up big in big games,” Harman said.
“Kevin played great,” Jackson added. “He’s been a rock back there for us. We have some other excellent goalies as well, and having that challenge in practice really helps.”
The Red Devils scored three times in the opening 10 minutes of action and then the offense bogged down and went scoreless for the next 22:30. Scooter Whiteside and Zach Augustine each had a goal and an assist in the first quarter, but the Cougars sliced into the lead when Dignen notched the only goal of the second period.
“Honestly, it’s a credit to (Downingtown East’s) defense. Actually, for a long stretch, both defenses kind of locked it down,” Jackson said.
“We have a lot of talent on our offense,” Harman added. “Sometimes we hit droughts, but when we are clicking, we can score at a rapid rate.”
Dignen finished with three goals and Miller chipped in two for the Cougars.
“Every team wants to play us and beat us,” Harman said. “You could tell (Downingtown East) wanted this one and they played very hard.
“There are a lot of good teams in our league. Right now we are undefeated and we are hoping to win our last two games. That would be a great accomplishment.”
Avon Grove had a 5-2 edge in face offs in the first half, but specialist Nate Hammond suffered a shoulder injury in the second half.
“We’re not sure how serious it is, but Nate is a warrior,” Jackson said.
Avon Grove 8, Downingtown East 6
Downingtown East 1 1 2 2 – 6
Avon Grove 3 0 3 2 – 8
Downingtown East goals: Dignen 3, Mulcahy, Miller 2.
Avon Grove goals: Harman 3, Chastain, Borkey, Whiteside, Augustine, Hammond.
Goalie saves: Iacovino (DE) 6; Malone (AG) 10.
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