WEST GOSHEN >> There was an element of familiarity between Strath Haven and West Chester Henderson in their PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal Saturday at West Chester East.
The Panthers handed the Warriors a three-goal loss early in the season, while the Warriors reversed fortunes in the District 1 semifinals. There wasn’t much that either team was going to do that could surprise the other, giving added emphasis to each possession.
Henderson’s Luke Wierman made sure that the Warriors had a lot more of those possessions. The sophomore standout won 15 of 19 faceoffs and scored on the first faceoff of the second half to highlight Henderson’s 9-6 win over the Panthers to book a spot in Tuesday’s state semifinal.
The Warriors will play Mars, a 15-14 double overtime winner over Hershey, at a place and time to be determined.
“We just needed to get possessions and (Haven midfielder Hunter Mazur) is a great faceoff guy,” Wierman said. “He’s strong and powerful and he used to kill me last year. I worked on my game a lot and we had a good fight in there.”
Wierman, a Fairfield recruit, was deadly at the X by using his speed and hand quickness. He was nearly automatic on the clamp, and when he wasn’t winning it by himself, his wing guys were vacuum cleaners on ground balls.
Strath Haven took a 3-2 lead late in the first quarter when All-Delco Jeff Conner bagged his second goal of the game. It was the last lead the Panthers held as Henderson went on a 6-0 run in the second and third quarters, guided by goals from Archer Rymiszewski, Joe Saulino, Matt Turse, Dylan Teeter, Wierman and Nick Mascetti.
“We just had to keep the intensity up and keep fighting,” Wierman said. “Our defense played great. Our goalie (Kyle Dampman) played great and that’s how we won.”
It could have been uglier for Strath Haven, too, if not for the play of goalie Vincey Palermo. The sophomore didn’t see his first start until the beginning of the playoff run, when coach Jef Hewlings gambled on Palermo to replace longtime starter Will Brake. It paid off even in defeat, as the smaller, quicker goalie made 11 saves. Six of those came in the opening quarter to keep Strath Haven ahead, and his performance showed that the Panthers will be in good hands in goal for the next two years, regardless of who the starter is.
“I wasn’t that nervous coming in (to the playoffs). I just knew I had to work harder,” Palermo said. “I wasn’t surprised. I knew I was working hard all season and I got the opportunity and I hope I did well. We just need to take this game into next season, work hard and learn from it.”
Henderson’s defense zeroed in on Conner, and when the Warriors made life tough on the All-American Virginia commit, it brought the Panthers’ offense to a halt. Henderson forced a ton of turnovers, but often, Strath Haven did it for the Warriors by making simple mistakes.
“If I had an answer for it, I would have shared it about two hours ago,” Hewlings said. “You can separate sports into a couple of different things. In lacrosse, it’s catching and throwing and getting ground balls. You saw how many times we had opportunities and we didn’t catch the ball. You’re not going to beat Henderson that way. Their gameplan was to push us around and see if we could respond, and we didn’t really respond that well.”
Instead, the Warriors played like they had the perfect response to everything.