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Avon Grove overcomes slow start, Ridley to advance

LONDON GROVE – Top-seeded Avon Grove was caught a bit flat-footed in the early going of Thursday’s District 1 3A second round lacrosse clash with visiting Ridley. But the real eye-opener came a bit later, when the explosive Red Devils rebounded impressively and proceeded to blitz the Raiders, 12-3.

“We’ve had other slow starts this season, but we always seem to bounce back and battle through adversity,” said senior Brendan Harman, who led Avon Grove with four goals. “We also know can’t play like that against the better teams in the district.”

Now 17-1 overall, the Devils advance to the District 1 quarterfinals on Saturday, where they will host Ches-Mont rival Downingtown East. The Cougars topped Perkiomen Valley for the right to get another shot at the two-time league champs.

“We’re lucky we are still practicing,” said Avon Grove head coach Eric Jackson. “Not every team has the privilege of doing that. We want to make sure we keep working hard and cherishing this experience. There is a lot to learn from all this.

“(Downingtown East is) a great team and we expect it to be a battle.”

In a regular season clash a week and a half ago, the host Devils cruised to a lopsided 17-4 victory over Ridley. This time, however, was different. For just the second time all season, Avon Grove faced a two-goal deficit as the 17th-seeded Raiders (11-9 overall) came out swinging.

“This was a much closer game,” Jackson acknowledged. “Hats off to Ridley. They are a well-coached, classy program. Our kids had to fight for everything tonight.”

It was admittedly a bit of a wake-up call when Ridley scored on its first two shots to jump ahead just three minutes into the contest on goals by Brock Anderson and Zane Johnston. But the Red Devils regrouped nicely and outscored the Raiders 12-1 in the final 45 minutes of action.

“Once we started clicking, our offense is very good. We can all score,” Harman said.

“We knew this was going to be a tough atmosphere,” Ridley coach Rory Friel added. “We were here 10 days ago and they took it to us. (Avon Grove is) a fantastic team and we just had to match their energy.

“We left it all on the field and I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”

Late in the opening quarter, junior Stephan Evans finally got the Devils on the board, and they proceeded to score the next five straight to take the lead for good. Sophomore Zach Augustine accounted for three in a three-minute stretch with a goal and two assists.

“There were some moments (in the early going) we weren’t happy on the sidelines, but the bottom line is it’s up to the athletes,” Jackson said. “They have to know what’s at stake and they do.

“All around, the guys responded well.”

Devon Tavani halted the run with a late goal for Ridley, but Evans scored again in the final minute of the half, and then Avon Grove pulled away with a dominating third quarter. The Devils outscored Ridley 5-0 in the period to open a commanding eight-goal lead, with Harman and Joey Borky each scoring twice during the rally.

“Our offense started slow, but we got it going,” said Borky, who chipped in three goals and an assist. “We can’t do that against Downingtown East.”

In all, the Avon Grove defense blanked the Raiders in the second half.

“Our defense is unbelievable and they locked it down after the first two goals,” Harman said.

“We had a good start, but the tough part was keeping it going,” Friel pointed out. “We have a lot of younger guys who are getting still getting valuable experience. We lack a little bit of depth but we are working hard to get it back to where it should be.

“Avon Grove made the correct adjustments and a couple bounces didn’t go our way. But that’s how lacrosse goes.”

In early May, the Devils edged Downingtown East 8-6 and went on to win the outright Ches-Mont crown. The winner on Saturday moves on to the district semifinals. The loser goes into the playbacks.

“Downingtown East is a league rival and they will come out strong because we beat them for the Ches-Mont championship,” Harman predicted.

Avon Grove 12, Ridley 3

Ridley             2 1 0 0 — 3

Avon Grove             1 5 5 1 — 12

Ridley goals: Anderson, Johnson, Tavoni.

Avon Grove goals: Harman 4, Borky 3, Smith, Evans 2, Augustine, Chastain.

Goalie saves: Santilla (R) 9; Malone (AG) 8.

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