TREDYFFRIN >> Conestoga’s 19-3 win against Pennridge in the second round of the PIAA District 1-AAA playoffs at Teamer Field Thursday featured a balance of productive offense, tough defense and some handy work from goalie Scott MacMillan.
The No. 3 seed Pioneers (16-3) controlled the ball for much of the game, enjoying a 32-10 shots-on-goal advantage, and whatever Conestoga’s tough defense couldn’t stop, MacMillan did, recording seven saves.
Conestoga’s victory sets up a Saturday lacrosse doubleheader at Teamer Field featuring both the Pioneers’ girls and boys squads in the third round of the PIAA District 1 3A playoffs (the Conestoga girls defeated Great Valley, 18-6, prior to the boys’ win).
Leading the way for the Conestoga sharpshooters against Pennridge was senior attack Tommy Sopko, who scored five goals. He connected for scores on his first three shots of the game.
A trio of Pioneers – junior attack Kent Hjelm, junior faceoff James Reilly and senior midfielder Hunter Gregory each scored twice.
“Hunter’s shot has improved all season, which I think is [fitting] since he’s a senior captain,” said Conestoga head coach Brody Bush. “He’s playing better in May than he did in March. …I think overall our shooting was great today.”
Sopko collected his 200th career point at Conestoga, scoring with six seconds to go before halftime (and the Pioneers a man down) to give the hosts a 10-2 lead.
“Getting to 200 points was definitely cool, but I’m not that worried about individual accomplishments,” said Sopko, who will be playing lacrosse for Bucknell next year. “When you’re winning faceoff after faceoff like we were today with James Reilly and [freshman] Chris Tsetsekos, that’s a big reason why we [won big].”
Sopko scored the game’s opening goal, just 43 seconds into the contest, then with 7:50 left in the first quarter Reilly scored on an assist from senior attack Henry Berg. One minute later, Gregory fired in an unassisted goal from the right side to make it 3-0, then just before the quarter ended, Sopko fired in a score from the left wing.
While Pennridge junior goalie Tristan Banks made a number of great saves (he finished with 11), the Conestoga barrage kept coming. Meanwhile, MacMillan was making a few standout stops of his own.
“I though Scott played great today,” said Bush. “He saved us a few times. I also thought [senior midfielder] Peyton Jones played shutdown defense today.”
Early in the second quarter, Reilly scored his second goal of the game on a rocket to the top right corner to make it 5-0. Within the next minute, junior attack Drew Mullen and Berg both scored after Tsetsekos won back-to-back faceoffs to make it 7-0.
Seven seconds after Berg scored, Sopko got this third goal of the game (on just three shots) when he fired a rocket from the left side, just after Reilly won another faceoff, to make it 8-0.
The game was beginning to look like a repeat the May 6 contest, in which Conestoga defeated Pennridge, 19-1. But that was distant history as far as the Pioneers were concerned.
“Coming into this game, we tried to forget about our regular season performance,” said Sopko.
Bush said, “We try to focus on how we play rather than any opponent we might face. I thought we played well today. We made a few mistakes – we missed a few slides on defense, and missed a few positions on clearing the ball.”
One of Thursday’s highlights for Conestoga came midway through the second quarter, when junior defender Jackson Niness came off the bench to enter the game. He had broken his wrist in a 13-12 win against Calvert Hall March 24, and this was his first game action since then.
“It was very nerve-racking but heart-warming coming off the bench and hearing the cheers [from Conestoga fans],” said Niness, who also plays football for the Pioneers. “We have a really strong defensive core, and they’ve been doing a great job for us while I was out.”
After Pennridge’s Ryan Garner scored with 8:52 left in the third quarter to make it 12-3, the Pioneers shut out the Rams for the last 21 minutes.
After the game, Pennridge head coach JP Banks remained optimistic.
“This loss in no way puts a damper on our season,” said Banks, whose squad finished the season with a 12-8 record. “We’re coming off our first district playoff win in school history, we’ve got a young team – we start six sophomores and one freshman – and we’re looking forward to next season.”
Tuesday, Pennridge, the No. 14 seed, edged 19th seed Unionville 13-12 in the opening round of the district playoffs.
“I’m proud of our team,” said Banks. “I think we played a more competitive game than we did the last time against Conestoga [a 19-1 loss May 6]. I think we played a lot tougher this time.
“I hope our players learn from this experience. Playing a good team like Conestoga can be a good learning experience for our team.”
Conestoga 19, Pennridge 3
Pennridge 0 2 1 0 – 3
Conestoga 4 6 7 2 – 19
Pennridge goals – Garner, Britner, Fanelli.
Conestoga goals – Sopko 5, Hjelm 2, Cara, Brandel, Schnorr, Nicholson, Bailey, Gregory 2, Kienzle, Reilly 2, Mullen, Berg.
Goalie saves: Banks (P) 11, Swartley (P) 3, MacMillan (C) 7, Lee (C) 1.
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