WEST CHESTER – The high school boy’s lacrosse program that’s played longer than any other in the state has finally qualified for its first district final. Hat stat may be a bit deceiving, but it’s absolutely true.
West Chester Henderson held visiting Strath Haven scoreless for more than 28 minutes on Tuesday and went on to top the Panthers, 9-6, to advance to the District 1 2A title game. The second-seeded Warriors will face top-seeded Springfield (Delco) on Thursday at West Chester East, at a time to be determined, for the championship.
“They didn’t have districts when I started coaching,” said head coach Paul Stankiewicz, who has been on the coaching staff at Henderson for 49 years. “But it’s still quite an accomplishment. We are happy.”
It didn’t take long for this one to evolved into the kind of close-to-the-vest, defensive battle that the Warriors seem to prefer. Henderson (17-2 overall) built a three to four goal lead early in the second half and then proceeded to keep third-seeded Strath Haven at arms-length the rest of the way.
“I feel like (Henderson) stopped our momentum every time it looked like we were building momentum,” said Panthers’ head coach Jef Hewlings.
“It actually started with their first goal,” Stankiewicz added. “We came right back and scored right away. And in the second half, every time it looked like they were coming on, we would score again. We were able to keep that distance.”
The outcome was similar to a regular season meeting in late March, when the Warriors prevailed 10-7 at Strath Haven. The Panthers (13-7 overall) drop into the consolation match on Thursday, where they will face Central League foe Radnor. The winner grabs third place and a spot in the PIAA Tournament.
“My message to the team is we have a game Thursday, and if you want to keep playing, we will have to step up our game,” Hewlings said.
“I saw a team that is not doing the little things at this time of the season. And when you are in playoff lacrosse, you have to step your game up.
“Henderson is a solid team. They pressure you and if you don’t match it with some pressure yourself, you will end up making mistakes.”
Henderson actually didn’t get off to the best of starts and trailed 2-1 after early goals by Strath Haven’s Hunter Mazer and Chris Rosini.
But in the final minute of the opening quarter, Henderson’s Matt Turse tied it, and then the Warriors blanked the Panthers the rest of the half to pull ahead 4-2. A steal and a goal by Brandon Moyer put the home team in front for good and then Turse added another goal off a pass from Joe Saulino.
Henderson’s Archer Rymiszewski and Dylan Teeter then scored the first two of the second half to take commanding 6-2 lead. The Panthers finally ended the lengthy scoring drought on a goal by Will Huestis, but Luke Wierman got it back a few minutes later for the Warriors.
Turse added his game-high third goal to make it 9-4 with just under five minutes remaining. Strath Haven scored the final two goals but it was too late.
“A good team responds when the pressure is on, and we did that,” Stankiewicz said. “We got a little nervous at the end. Up three or four goals, we shouldn’t be too nervous, but they are a little like their coach, who preaches that nothing is certain.”
Goalie Kyle Dampman registered seven of his nine saves in the second half for Henderson; Teeter scored twice; and Saulino dished out three assists.
“Defense is the most important part of the game,” Stakiewicz pointed out. “Our close defense and goalie are excellent and so is our short-stick and long-stick (midfielders). And we don’t care about the matchups.
“We wanted to get (Strath Haven) slowed down a bit. They had good defenders on our top two midfielders. But the two guys who play our third midfielder spot – Matt Turse and Pat Keegan – and they combined to score four goals. It was the right matchup.”
A sophomore, Wierman scored a goal and added an assist, but more importantly, he was dominant on face offs, winning 10 of 14.
“Possession is key,” he said. “They can’t score if they don’t have the ball. My wings – Steven Fuller and Mark Rizzo – have been playing great all season, so they are always there to help me.”
Stankiewicz added: “You can’t underestimate how important it is to get possession. It’s such a downer for the opposition. The reason (Wierman) is so good is he’s worked on it, went to camps and he has progressed.”
West Chester Henderson 9, Strath Haven 6
Strath Haven 2 0 1 3 — 6
W.C. Henderson 2 2 2 3 — 9
Strath Haven goals: Fink, N. Palermo, Conner, Rosini, Mazur, Huestis.
W.C. Henderson goals: Turse 3, Keegan, Wierman, Teeter 2, Rymiszewski, Moyer.
Goalie saves: V. Palermo (SH) 10; Dampman (WCH) 10.