NETHER PROVIDENCE >> With his senior lacrosse season at Strath Haven down to a second-round, win-or-leave postseason alternative, Tyler Fink arrived at George L. King Field Saturday with sufficient motivation. Just the same, he’d pay attention, in case there would be more.
As he told the story, there was more.
“My defender that was guarding me was just teasing me the whole time,” Fink said. “So instead of fighting back, I just played lacrosse.”
From the attack position, Fink would score a hat trick, helping push the Panthers past Marple Newtown, 10-7, in the District 1 Class 2A boys quarterfinals. That was not only good for a semifinal date Tuesday at West Chester Henderson, but for the right, in case of a loss, to bump into a play-back game for a spot in the state tournament.
Jeffrey Conner provided three goals and three assists as the Panthers improved to 13-6. Goalkeeper Vincey Palermo, in a rare start, made eight saves.
Though Fink was busy early and late — he scored the first goal, then tabbed a critical fourth-quarter goal to put Strath Haven ahead, 9-7, with 4:31 left — he claims he had to hear about it all afternoon.
“Whacking me, playing with me,” Fink said. “Trash talking, essentially.”
For much of the game, the Tigers had won back some of the boasting options they’d surrendered in an earlier 14-6 loss to Strath Haven. They took a 5-3 lead in the second quarter, and pulled within 8-7 on a Zach Foust goal with 8:19 to play.
“Talk to the players,” said coach Tom Hannum, declining further comment after the Tigers’ season ended at 13-7. “They were the stars.”
Marple Newtown had a few. Goalie Liam Ferry was active, making 10 saves, many early, blunting the Panthers’ quick attack. And James Kelly and Al Viola mixed in a goal each.
But Strath Haven responded to every crisis, pulling away with goals from Fink and Will Huestis in the final 4:41, Chris Rosini assisting on both.
“At this point in the season, you are going to see a good team,” Panthers coach Jef Hewlings said. “And we knew Marple was a good team.”
To a point, Hewlings had a particular pre-game concern. By his view, the Panthers were not playing their best lacrosse … and at the wrong end of the schedule. So he made a goaltender switch, inserting Palermo for just his second game all season.
“I just figured it was the right time to make a change, and he did a great job for us,” Hewlings said. “We have Will Blake, so we know we have two solid goaltenders. We haven’t been playing well in a lot of areas and we had to change things up.”
Palermo, a sophomore, was ready to make every reasonable stop.
“It was a good feeling,” he said of earning the start. “I knew I was working hard for this moment. And I knew it might come.”
Strath Haven’s moment to rally arrived late in the second quarter, down a pair. But within 40 seconds, Ryan Morris would score from Huestis, and Conner would feed Liam Carney for a goal, good for a 5-5 tie.
Luke Jelus put Marple Newtown ahead 2:56 into the second half, but A.J. Santisi, Fink and Conner would score before the end of the third quarter to give the Panthers some comfort … at least until Foust drew the Tigers within 8-7 early in the fourth.
“We weren’t nervous,” Conner said. “We thought going into the game that we were a better team. We handled them pretty well back in the season. So we figured if we stuck to our game plan, we would come out on top.”
And if there was a dash of bonus motivation, the Panthers would not turn that down, either.
“Everybody is playing for the same thing,” Fink said. “We are trying to get to the state championship at the end of this year.”
Which would be the final word, indeed.