EAST ROCKHILL >> It was a matchup Unionville would take as many times as it was offered.
Will Ciccarelli, the Indians’ dynamite attacker, was charging in on Pennridge goalie Tristan Banks with about 20 seconds left in their District 1-AAA first round game Tuesday. Unionville trailed by one but its top option had enough room to rip a low shot.
Banks had come up clutch time after time to that point and he had one more in him.
The goalie’s save with about 20 seconds left preserved a hard-fought 13-12 Pennridge win, the first postseason victory in program history. No. 14 Pennridge shook off a ragged first half to rally back against the No. 19 Indians and will face No. 3 Conestoga in Thursday’s second round.
“He’s been such a great surprise for us this year,” Rams coach JP Banks said of his goalie. “His play this year has been unbelievable, I mean lights-out. He’s got one of the best players in the state bearing down on him and comes up with a huge one-on-one save. He was like that all day.”
Offensively it took a little time for Pennridge to figure things out and the Rams were in their own way quite a bit in the first half. Pennridge committed 13 turnovers before the half, with at least four of them coming right in front of the Unionville net.
Whether it was the nerves of a postseason game or the attack just looking for the perfect play, Pennridge fell behind early.
“We wanted to get our defense matched up with their numbers and our offense had to see what they were running,” Rams attackman Nick Fanelli said. “We wanted to settle the ball and not force anything, but we did in the first half. In the second half we talked it over and ended up settling down.”
Unionville was happy to take advantage in the first half and Ciccarelli led the way. The attacker scored five total goals in the game, three of them before half and all impressive.
He started off with a spin move into a goal, the second coming off a wicked rip from distance off the left wing and he capped his first half effort with a shot fake into a drive.
“Lacrosse is a momentum game and the momentum switched their way in the second half,” Unionville coach Duane Lawrence said. “It was a five-goal swing their way. We battled back and got the game tied amd had things where we wanted them. It was a couple missed opportunities.”
Pennridge knotted the game at 4-4, only for Unionville to rip off the next three goals and tilt momentum to the visiting side. JP Banks said when a team gets up by four goals, that’s when a game starts to slip away so the Rams wanted to get something to go their way before the break.
Fanelli, who was all over the field, provided it when he slipped in and ripped a shot across the turf with 11.7 seconds left.
“We kept thinking it could be our last game but we wanted to keep playing,” Fanelli said. “It gave us a lot of momentum going into the half and let us play with a lot of confidence in the second half.”
Fanelli led the Rams with four goals and two assists but if the team has shown anything this year, it’s that the Rams aren’t a one-man show. From Banks and his defense to Fanelli to midfielders Chris Warner and Kevin Britner to faceoff man PJ Matkowski, the whole team did its part.
Matkowski struggled early on the X, with Unionville’s Garrett Rogers winning the opening faceoff and scoring six seconds later. But as the game wore on, Matkowski held his own and came up with some pivotal draws.
Pennridge exploded out of the gate in the second half by scoring the first four goals of the third quarter and completely turned the tables. The Rams won the third by a 5-1 margin and added the first score of the final frame for an 11-8 lead.
“We talked over our defense and matchups,” Fanelli said. “We made sure everyone was on the same page. On offense, we settled and got into some new sets and I think that really helped us a lot.”
The offense was only part of it. Pennridge’s defense really locked down in the second half. It was solid in the first half, but the sheer volume of shots, the Indians had a 22-7 edge at the break, led to some breakdowns.
Banks kept coming up with saves, making 21 on the day and his defensemen gave him plenty of help. Danny Hart, Johnnie Banks, Brandon Howell and long-stick mid Ryan Commiso defended well and helped force Unionville into plenty of second-half turnovers.
“Tristan did amazing,” Fanelli said. “Our defense and Tristan deserve a shout out. They gave us a boost.”
Unionville had its own surge late in the game, scoring three goals in 52 seconds to tie things up 11-11 with 4:00 left on the clock.
After the Rams got the ball back inside two-and-a-half minutes, they took a timeout. For the second time on the afternoon, it would lead to a goal. Two quick passes upfield led to Hart feeding Fanelli for the go-ahead strike.
“That was a breakdown. What we did was try to put two guys on their clearing middie because he had been hurting us all night,” Lawrence said. “He ended up open on the midfield line for an easy score. Give them credit, they got their guys to the right place.”
Britner added one with 1:57 left when he alertly got to a ground ball, scooped it up and ripped the shot home.
The Rams needed that one when Unionville’s Jack Hoopman got one back with 51 seconds left. The Indians had a great chance with about 40 seconds left, but the shot sailed high.
It all came down to that final chance and one last time, Tristan Banks had his teammates’ backs. As a result, they made history.
Now they get to try and topple a giant in Conestoga.
“We’re excited for the opportunity,” PJ Banks said. “Make no mistake, they are one of the favorites to win the district and the state. They have excellent players at every position but I’m hoping we’ll come out and be a little less starstruck than we were the first time we played them.”
Pennridge 13, Unionville 12
Unionville 3 4 1 4 — 12
Pennridge 2 3 5 3 — 13
Goals-Assists: U – Ciccarelli 5-0, Hoopman 2-0, Rogers 2-0, Hower 1-0, Ash 1-0, Lenkaitis 0-1; P- Nick Fanelli 4-2, Kevin Britner 3-1, Chris Warner 2-1, Ryan Garner 2-2, Jack Garner 1-0, Danny Hart 0-1