NETHER PROVIDENCE >> There were smiles on the faces of Strath Haven seniors Maddy Ruffini and Nicole McNeely after the Panthers’ 13-5 PIAA District 1 Class 3A girls lacrosse playoff victory over Hatboro-Horsham at George L. King Field Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s the first time those of us who are seniors have played in a playoff game that we won,” said Ruffini, who scored six goals and had one assist for the 11th-seeded Panthers.
McNeely, who opened the scoring for Haven (13-5) and chipped in with three assists and nine draw controls, had another reason for her big grin.
“You never want to have practice more than when you’re in the playoffs,” the Siena-bound midfielder said.
While Strath Haven will be practicing Wednesday in preparation for its second-round matchup at No. 6 Unionville, Hatboro-Horsham will be looking back at its 11-8 season as well as looking ahead to the future.
“Last year they were 3-17,” said Marie Schmucker, the former Ridley High and Temple University All-American who returned as the Hatters’ head coach this season.
“They’ve come a long way. This was a great experience and a learning experience for most of them.”
Schmucker, who recently was inducted into the Delco Athletes Hall of Fame, got an 18-save performance from sophomore goalie Arielle Hammer, a Boston University commit.
“I’d been a goalie in soccer, so when we needed a lacrosse goalie when I played in fifth grade I said I would do it,” said Hammer, who will play for the Triple-H Lacrosse club team this summer.
“Things went so much better for us this year. We worked together so much better.”
Strath Haven junior goalie Katie Capalbo noted that facing Ruffini, McNeely and some of the other Haven players at practice has made her a stronger goalkeeper.
“Practices are just one way for me to get better,” said Capalbo, who has committed to Villanova University to play field hockey. “They know my weaknesses, so they shoot at them to help make me better.”
While Capalbo was holding off the Hatboro-Horsham attack, Ruffini was getting three goals in each half. Margot Hotham added a pair of scores after halftime and finished with three goals.
“We were also the 11th seed my freshman year,” said Ruffini, who will play at Gettysburg College, where her father, Dave Ruffini, played football. “But we lost our first game to Villa Maria.”
McNeely (nine) and Hotham (four) had all of Strath Haven’s draw controls to help the home team to a 13-7 advantage from the circle.
“I haven’t really gone to a camp to work on something like that,” she said. “I just know that at times I can lose the draw but (Hotham) will come up with the ball. Or if I see that I’m stronger than the other girl, I know I can get the draw from her.
“This is just an amazing feeling finally not to be crying after our first playoff game. Maddy and I got called up for the playoffs our first year, and it was so devastating standing there watching as the seniors were so upset after they lost.”
“It was a great effort as a team,” said Strath Haven coach Pigeon Graham, whose team had closed out the Central League season with losses to Harriton, Garnet Valley and Springfield.
“We had a lot of assists today, and some of our highest scorers didn’t score that much today. But they did other things to help us win. And our defense did a nice job.”
Among the Haven defenders helping in front of Capalbo were Chloe Brennan, Kacy Hefertepe and Bridget Crow. McNeely and Hotham also did their share when Hatboro-Horsham was on attack.
“We don’t know that much about Unionville because we didn’t play them,” Capalbo said.
The Panthers do know that they will be facing a team Thursday that lost only three games — by two goals to Garnet Valley and by one goal to Harriton and Great Valley — and scored an average of 13.8 goals in its 12 Ches-Mont League contests.
“Things will be pretty serious at practice (Wednesday),” Capalbo said.