HORSHAM >> It was one of those kind of goals.
Hatboro-Horsham’s Joe Larouche had just set up classmate Matt Barella to put the Hatters up a goal against West Chester Rustin when the two seniors reversed roles. The result was an in-the-moment stroke of brilliance that gave the Hatters a huge lift.
It didn’t win the game, but it put Hatboro-Horsham on the right path. The Hatters used a dominant second quarter as they downed the Golden Knights 9-4 in the second round of the District I boys lacross Class AAA playoffs Thursday night.
“Our coaches were getting us all hyped up in the intermission of the first and the second quarter and told us to come out strong and finish our opportunities,” Larouche said. “We’ve been working on finishing on strong goalies like we’ve played all season. Matty B and I connected on a few and put them in the back of the net.”
After a drawn-out first quarter that saw the Golden Knights hold most of the possession, the Hatters took over. Specifically, it was senior faceoff specialist Brian Hood that got HH on the right mark. After Hood lost a couple draws in the first quarter, Hatters coach John Kurek asked the Cabrini-bound senior if he was all right.
Hood adamantly responded he was and he had things under control. The he went out and proved it, winning every faceoff at the X in the second quarter as the Hatters outscored Rustin 6-1 in the frame to break a 1-1 deadlock after the first period.
“Both teams were trying to figure each other out, their offense was patient and we told our guys we’ve seen what they run, don’t overstep or give up a quick run,” Kurek said. “Brian’s our all-league faceoff guy and he says ‘Coach, I’ve got it’ and he didn’t lose a faceoff in the second quarter, so he gave or offense possessions and our offense started getting a feel for the game.”
Hood’s mastery on the X was just one of a few things that the Knights had to overcome. At some point late in the first quarter, Rustin’s standout senior goalie Kyle Mullin picked up a lower leg injury that had him hobbled the rest of the night.
The backbone of the team, the Harvard recruit shrugged off the initial injury and stayed, managing 12 saves and at one point cleared a ball all but hopping off one leg. To coach Kevin Philibin, it was an effort emblematic of the team’s season.
“They played their hearts out all year and this game was a mirror of our season, some ups, some downs and fighting back the whole time,” Philibin said. “It was tough for (Mullin) to plant and get out and clear in the open field the way he’s used to. But that’s the kind of kid he is, he stayed in and fought through it and still made some incredible saves despite not being able to step the way he normally does.”
As for that goal, which put the Hatters up 4-2 with 8:05 left in the first half, it was a bit of creativity between two guys who had it going. Larouche scored twice and assisted five other goals on Thursday while Barella scored two and assisted two.
The play started with Barella setting a good pick to free up Larouche, with the attacker then rolling toward the net. Larouche saw it and slipped a pass in to the cutting Barella, who then drew the attention of the Rustin long-pole defensemen.
Larouche used that space to make his own cut and Barella fed him the ball back with the midfielder whipping it past Mullin to send the entire Hatter bench into a loud celebration.
“Anything that’s worthy of the whole sideline and the stands getting up and chanting is a motivational factor for us,” Larouche said. “We get riled up, wanting to do more and keep improving. It’s in the moment, Matty Barella is really good on the crease and he moves the ball if he knows he doesn’t have a shot.”
The Hatters took a 7-2 lead at the break and while Rustin was able to shore things up at the back, they still had a significant hole to climb out of. Philibin said the Hatters’ picks in the second quarter did a great job of freeing up their attackers, so that was the first thing the Knights wanted to take away.
On top of that, the Rustin coach gave Hood plenty of credit for his ability to consistently win faceoffs saying it becomes even harder to rally when the other team keeps getting the ball back after a score. When Rustin did have the ball, they had trouble breaking down the Hatters’ defense.
“The defense, we’ve been pretty strong all year,” Hatters defenseman Eddie Masterson said. “We feel comfortable back there, even if they possess the ball for a while back there. We saw what they were doing in the first quarter, thought about it and talked about it and saw their weaknesses. We tried to exploit them and I felt we did a pretty good job.”
Masterson had a caused turnover and two ground balls, Jeff Marshall had a caused turnover despite being under the weather, Drew Robinson caused three turnovers and Chris McPoyle caused a pair of turnovers and scooped up two ground balls on the back end.
On top of his offensive production, Larouche even had a caused turnover and ground ball.
The Hatters will face Conestoga in Saturday’s quarterfinals and the team was looking forward to the challenge of taking on a state heavyweight. It’s the first time the Hatters have advanced in districts in the current seniors’ tenure and Larouche said it’s the result of them coming together as a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
“I love the lacrosse program here, they love the tradition and talking about different classes that have played here,” Kurek said. “It’s been a while since they won a playoff game and one of the goals the seniors had was host and win a home playoff game. It’s another goal they’ve made happen.”
Hatboro-Horsham 9, West Chester Rustin 4
West Chester Rustin 1 1 1 1 – 4
Hatboro-Horsham 1 6 2 0 – 9
Goals-Assists: WC – Nick Madonna 2-0, Cal Mackenzie 1-0, Michael Burke 1-0, Aiden Jozwik 0-1; HH – Joe Larouche 2-5, Matt Barella 2-2, Logan Eldridge 2-0, Timmy McPoyle 1-1, Ian Reilly 1-0, Will Reimenschneider 1-0