NETHER PROVIDENCE >> A fresh bandage, speckled with blood, decorated Tyler Fink’s jaw Thursday following Strath Haven’s 9-7 District 1 Class 2A third-place game victory over Radnor.
The wound came courtesy of a late cross check from Raiders defenseman Jack Treangen. Fink scored on the play, one of five goals on the night for him, in a sequence that encapsulated the Panthers’ performance: They took it on the chin and kept responding to earn a place in the PIAA state championships for a second consecutive season.
“We fought hard. We have been all season,” said Haven senior Hunter Mazur. “I’m just really happy to see my guys keep fighting the entire game. That’s how we won. We were tough guys.”
The third-seeded Panthers (14-7) endured a topsy-turvy evening. They led 4-1 early in the second quarter, trailed 6-4 midway through the third. But Haven maintained its composure despite a strong push from Radnor. Just look at Fink’s face, or the faceoff dot, where Mazur and Chris Austen struggled through 10- to 15-second draws.
“Those were definitely the most challenging faceoffs I’ve had all season,” said Mazur. “Chris fought really hard that entire game.”
The opening draw took the clock down to 11:45 with Austen winning possession for the No. 5 Raiders. Julian Castilleja quickly put the visitors ahead 58 seconds in to remind all in attendance that Radnor, 2015 state champs, knows what it takes this time of year.
But the lead was short lived. Ibrahim Pio circled the net, faked a shot and fired past Tucker Ballbach to knot things at one. Then Fink got his first two of the night, one to close the first quarter, the second with 9:02 left in the half. Jeffrey Conner made it 4-1 just 34 seconds later, and it looked like the Panthers might run away with things.
The Raiders had other ideas, though. Connor Pierce scored twice in the second quarter and once in the third and before long, Radnor led 6-4. The Raiders were decisive on attack; each of their third-quarter goals came on drives to the net. On the other side, Haven struggled to find a decent look at goal. The Panthers missed the net on four of their first five shots of the frame.
But at 4:03, Fink stopped the bleeding — figuratively speaking — when he buried a Conner feed to make it 6-5. Liam Carney’s marker with a man advantage, off a Pio assist, tied it at six heading into the fourth.
“I think everyone just put their head up and started looking for other guys,” said Fink of his team’s offensive outburst. “(We) started playing more as a team. It definitely paid off.”
With Mazur continuing to battle in the faceoff circle, Haven controlled play. The Panthers fired 10 shots to the Raiders’ five in that third quarter, and even when Clayton Proctor put Radnor ahead early in the fourth, Haven remained confident.
“They started playing a little bit of a zone,” said Fink. “Jeffrey Conner was drawing a lot of attention, of course. And that just started creating for our other players.”
Carney was the first beneficiary. He tied the game for a second time at 8:59 of the fourth, less than a minute after Proctor’s go ahead goal. That set the stage for Fink.
“We actually had a team meeting yesterday, and we addressed all these problems in our season,” said Fink. “We just asked our entire team to step up now that it’s playoff time.”
Fink scored the winner at 7:38 after Carney forced a Raiders turnover. Fink added an insurance marker with just over five minutes to play. Again Conner drew a double-team, again he found the open man for his third assist of the night.
“Our defense definitely came out that second half, and we got a bunch of big stops,” said Mazur. “It gave us a bunch of momentum and gave us some possessions on offense.”
Meanwhile, Radnor (13-9) couldn’t muster a comeback. The Raiders had just three shots in the fourth quarter. Strath Haven had five and scored on three.
“It’s kind of hard to put that into words,” said Pierce. “I was fighting until the last second. All I know is next year that’s not going to happen.”
The Panthers, on the other hand, will look to build on last year’s semifinal berth when they open at Palmyra next week. They’ll get a few days off, enough time to lick their wounds.
“It definitely gives our team a lot more energy and confidence heading into the state playoffs,” said Fink of the tough triumph against the Raiders. “Hopefully we can win it this year.”
In the Class 3A third-place game:
Garnet Valley 12, C.B. East 11 >> The Jagaurs won in overtime on a goal by Jake D’Annunzio. No further details were reported to the Daily Times.
In the Class 3A fifth-place game:
Spring-Ford 10, Haverford 7 >> An anemic start on offense doomed the Fords, who netted only one goal in the first half. Jack Daly recorded a hat trick and Luke McCallion supplied three assists. Cole Lukaiewicz, John Sheivert and Nick DiIorio each tallied for the Fords, while Dan Tierney made eight saves in the cage.