LONDON GROVE – On the surface, the District 1 3A lacrosse quarterfinal matchup looked like a tough assignment for top-seeded Avon Grove. Facing a familiar foe and league rival is challenging enough, and visiting Downingtown East also had revenge on its mind.
But when the Red Devils are locked in like they were on Saturday, they are the class of the Ches-Mont League, and it was reinforced once again as Avon Grove overwhelmed the Cougars, 12-2, to earn a spot in the district semifinals next Tuesday. Earlier this month in the regular season on the same field, Downingtown East gave the Devils all they could handle before falling by two.
“We were so fired up for this one, coach (Eric Jackson) didn’t have to say anything to us,” said midfielder Jake Smith. “He was excited that we were so excited.
“We were padded up an hour and a half before the start.”
Sophomore attacker Zach Augustine added that the energy starting building with a bunch of texts going back and forth between teammates on Saturday.
“Then we all came to the locker room early, we listened to music and we were ready,” he said.
It showed as Avon Grove (18-1 overall) managed to avoid a slow start, which has been an issue in the last few outings. The ninth-seeded Cougars (15-6 overall) withstood the early onslaught, and trailed 4-2 early in the second period, but the Red Devils ended the game on an 8-0 run.
“(Avon Grove) just capitalized on our mistakes, period,” said East head coach Todd Cliggett.
“We played … I don’t want to say terrible. But we just turned the ball over too much to get any momentum.”
The Devils will host No. 5 Central Bucks East with a berth in the district final going to the winner. Avon Grove topped the Patriots, 8-3, on the road, during the regular season in early April. Downingtown East falls into the playbacks to face fourth-seeded Spring Ford, also on Tuesday.
When asked if Saturday’s effort was the best of the season, Jackson demurred: “I hope we have more to come – that’s the political answer,” he laughed.
Augustine – who scored two goals and dished out three assists – was a bit less diplomatic.
“All year we’ve struggled at times and our coached always say we need to put four quarters together,” he said. “Now, everybody’s back and we are healthy, and that felt like our best and most complete game of the season.”
Looking to get back to the district finals for the fourth time since 2013, Avon Grove was razor sharp from the start, scoring twice in the opening 2 minutes 13 seconds and forcing the Cougars to call a very early timeout. And even after Jack Mulcahy put East on the scoreboard, Avon Grove’s Brendan Harman scored 17 seconds later.
Recovering from a shoulder injury, specialist Nate Hammond won all five face offs in the first quarter, and the Devils lead 4-1.
“(The slow starts) were just one of the bumps in our road, and we just went right over it,” said Smith, who had four goals and an assist.
“Having Nate Hammond back, getting possessions right away and scoring like that is huge for our confidence,” Augustine added.
Defender Jason Reynolds notched the Cougars’ second goal off a face off win, but Avon Grove bounced back once again. Junior Joey Borcky registered a natural hat-trick by scoring three times in the final 5:37 of the half. Two came off passes from Augustine and the other was the result of a Borcky steal deep in East’s defensive zone.
“We made it 4-2 and had a long possession and didn’t capitalize,” Cliggett lamented. “We were in the game at that point. It was difficult that they jumped on us 2-0, but we were in the game at 4-2.”
Any faint hopes for an East comeback were quickly dashed when Smith opened the second half with a pair of goals, and then Augustine added a goal in the final minute to extend the margin to eight, 10-2, through three quarters.
Afterwards, Jackson went to great lengths to avoid praising his squad too much, especially with huge district and state tournament tests still to come. “We never want out guys to be complacent,” he said.
“I think of every moment being a game within a game,” he added. “We talk a lot of winning the battles in order to win the war. We came out with a lot of energy, which is what we need to bring to every game.
“Now, we want to have a good hard practice on Monday and be ready to learn and implement what we have to do to keep rolling.”
Borcky finished with three goals and two assists to lead the Devils. Bryce Lauletta also scored a goal for East.
Avon Grove 12, Downingtown East 3
Downingtown East 1 1 0 1 — 3
Avon Grove 4 3 3 2 — 12
Downingtown East goals: Mulcahy, Reynolds, Lauletta.
Avon Grove goals: Augustine 2, Smith 4, Borcky 3, Whiteside, Harman, Jones.
Goalie saves: Iacovino (DE) 4; Malone (AG) 6.