WEST GOSHEN >> Had the Vegas oddsmakers taken a gander at the PIAA girls lacrosse finals Saturday afternoon, they probably would’ve installed the two Main Line representatives as favorites — one by a slight margin, the other more decisively so.
But given the history of Archbishop Carroll and Radnor, assuming the frontrunner’s role would require evidentiary backing on the big stage, in that ‘you’ve got to see it to believe it’ kind of way.
Both teams have surmounted challenges along the road. But what united the two victors — Radnor in a 20-8 evisceration of Kennard-Dale, Carroll a razor-thin 9-8 edge on Springfield — as much as geography was a comfort in the spotlight that belied the litany of adversity preceding it.
Julianne Puckette’s personal demolition tour neatly epitomized Radnor’s ascendency. The senior attacker scored nine goals Saturday, a state final record. In eight playoff games, she rocketed home 37 markers; Radnor allowed just 37 goals in that stretch.
Puckette’s personal history dovetails with Radnor’s collective travails. The Lehigh commit sat on the sidelines last spring, the second major knee injury that cost her in sum nearly half a high school career spanning three sports, as the Raiders were run through by Conestoga, 18-7. That margin, like Saturday’s, triggered the running-clock mercy rule.
Even as the presumptive favorite through the postseason, the lone representative of the hegemonic Central League battering smaller schools and confronting title-game arrivistes from District 3, Radnor still carried and channeled a hefty chip on its shoulder.
“I think we’ve gone through a lot, especially with Julianne’s knee injuries and then going back to our game last year in the state finals,” Radnor captain Nicole Massimino said. “So I think that we are playing for a lot, and especially Julianne, when she comes out here, she works 500 times as hard as everyone else and she just goes out and plays because of those injuries.”
Carroll’s plight has spanned the entire PIAA era. A 17-time Catholic League champion and nearly automatic entrant via District 12, Carroll had won three games in eight previous states trips. Saturday was win No. 4 of 2017.
Carroll’s poise Saturday belied the dearth of past success. It counter-punched Springfield’s tactic of shutting off top scorer Sam Swart in the first half, with University of North Carolina-bound freshman speedster Alyssa Long locking off the Syracuse signee. Holding Swart to one first-half goal either signifies a determined defensive effort or a laugher of a midseason Catholic League game, and the distinction Saturday was obvious.
Yet Carroll neither panicked nor missed a beat. The Patriots led 5-2 at half. They found four goalscorers not named Swart, led by a hat trick from Katie Detwiler.
“We literally practice every single situation that can come at us,” Detwiler said. “Obviously they can throw a wild card at us, but we know if Sam’s having a face-guard, if I’m having a face-guard, if anyone on our team is isolated, we know how to get around it. We’re so deep. Our players know how to score so we take the advantage of using all of our talent.”
Carroll maintained poise when Springfield inevitably surged. A 3-0 spurt powered by Olivia Little and punctuated by Bailey O’Brien to tie the game at 5 was answered within 26 seconds by Detwiler to draw Carroll ahead again. When goals by Olivia Pace and Kristen Methlie gave Springfield its first lead at 7-6 with 16:48 to play, Carroll responded with the decisive 3-0 run, sparked by Detwiler 46 ticks after Methlie’s goal and capped by two Swart markers, a star stepping up at the biggest moment.
“I knew we were going to have a battle,” Detwiler said. “They were an amazing team, and it was going to be a fight for every second, which it was. We came out with all of our heart.”
Carroll also summoned the equanimity to preserve the lead. With a 12-7 edge in draw controls — eight by defender Rachel Matey, who also scored — Carroll wound down more than three minutes of clock following Bridget Whitaker’s goal at 4:02 that clawed Springfield within one. The Patriots avoided the loose passes, needless turnovers and harried shots that plagued the Cougars in the final minutes, a distinction in stark contrast to Springfield’s apparent edge in big-game experience, including a trip to the state final three years ago.
And when Detwiler got her stick on a desperation centering pass by Belle Mastropietro off a restart with three seconds to play, the emotional release of the celebration was cathartic.
“I think every day in practice, we prepared ourselves to feel this way and to never get our heads down,” Detwiler said. “We always want positivity and I feel like all the games we’ve played this year have prepared us for this. And every year that we’ve lost, we’ve never wanted to have that feeling again.”
Albeit with more recent historical context of the pain of a state final, Radnor underwent the same process. As the national anthem played at West Chester East, the Raiders performed their usual routine — hands held down the line, connecting the entire team, with a whisper down the lane of motivational keys they hoped would shape the next 50 minutes.
The pain of the past — of the injuries and scrapes, of the Conestoga setback on the very same turf — escaped mention, but the galvanizing strength of those tribulations trumpeted loud and clear.
“I think we mentioned it earlier in the week, but after that it was just kind of in the back of our minds,” Massimino said. “We all knew we had to come out hard if we wanted to win … just knowing that it’s our last game of the season and it’s our last 50 minutes to show what we have.”
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