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Defense shines as Pope John Paul II downs Methacton, 3-2 to stay unbeaten

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ROYERSFORD >> It’s been a slow start to spring — unless you’re on Pope John Paul II’s boys lacrosse team.

The Panthers (5-0, 4-0 PAC) have braved the elements this month to upend perennial PAC Final Four squads in Owen J. Roberts and Perkiomen Valley. Tuesday, they continued their hot start, outlasting a strong effort from visiting Methacton, 3-2 to remain unbeaten on the season.

Methacton’s Kyle Kacala (9) sends one toward goal during the second period of Tuesday’s game. Kacala scored on the play. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

In the middle of a three-games-in-three days stretch, the Panthers relied on a team-wide stalwart defensive effort to boost them past the Warriors (1-6, 1-2 PAC).

Goalie Noah Balliet led the way with 11 saves, six of which came in the fourth quarter, when the Panthers survived three successive Methacton extra-man opportunities to preserve the victory.

In a game that featured no scoring after the opening minutes of the second quarter, PJP was able to dominate possession for long stretches of the middle quarters before surviving the late attempt at a rally from the Warriors.

Pope John Paul II’s Kyle Donovan (21) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the first period Tuesday. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

“A win is a win at the end of the day,” said PJP coach Blase Cesarone, “and I’m happy with the way we executed our systems.

“It’s tough when you play three games in three days, but such is the nature of high school sports.”

Kyle Donovan (two goals, assist) and Matt Cressman (goal, assist) handled the heavy lifting on the offensive end for the Panthers, who continued their program history-making start. With the aforementioned victories over OJR and PV already to their credit, Tuesday marked the program’s first win against Methacton.

“We just keep rolling,” said Donovan.

Jack Pellegrino got the Warriors off on the right foot with the opening goal at 7:17 of the first quarter before Cressman answered for PJP off a feed from Donovan at 3:38. Donovan gave PJP its first lead at 0:55 of the first off a beautiful dodge from the top of the box into a quick shot past Methacton’s Matt Wall.

Pope John Paul II’s Mike Knapp (2) sends a shot toward goal while Methacton’s Jack Pellegrino (7) defends. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

After Kyle Kacala knotted things up at 2 for Methacton early in the second quarter, the Donovan/Cressman duo struck again less than 30 seconds later, Donovan bagging his second of the day for the Panthers at 10:22 of the second quarter to retake a 3-2 lead.

Little did anyone know at that point it would be the game’s final goal. The first three quarters were dominated by the PJP defense — led by Mike Florig, Jake Bildstein, and Luke Roth — before goaltender Balliet took over in the fourth quarter.

Pope John Paul II’s Jacob Bildstein (1) sends a pass upfield while Methacton’s Jack Pellegrino (7) defends. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

PJP’s 10-man rides made it difficult for Methacton to establish any offensive sets in the first three quarters. When Methacton was able to claim possession, PJP made advancement difficult, creating several turnovers before the Warriors could set up their offense.

“We want to tire out the defensemen, give our own defense time to settle in,” said Cressman.

“It helps the defense and it helps Noah,” added Donovan.

Penalties gave Methacton several chances to set up the offense by the fourth quarter, at which point Balliet repaid his defense with several saves that thwarted Methacton’s tying opportunities.

Methacton’s Jack Pellegrino (7) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the first period Tuesday. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

On the other side, despite dominating possession PJP was unable to extend the lead thanks to Warriors goalie Matt Wall’s 13 saves. Limiting the Panthers to 16 total shots on goal despite their possession advantage was a testament to the strength of the Methacton defensive unit.

“We’re a young team, and we’re trying to become a little more process oriented,” said Methacton coach Nathanael Ryan. “And we were better today — clearing the ball, contesting ground balls.

“But we have a lot of work to do, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The outcomes are frustrating, but we were a better team today than (in our previous games.)”

Pope John Paul II’s Kyle Donavan, right, celebrates after scoring a goal against Methacton Tuesday. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

For the victorious Panthers, it’s uncharted territory for a young program that’s seemingly making history one game at a time. Tuesday’s stars, however, aren’t letting it affect them.

“We’re not really looking into the future,” Cressman concludes. “We are just focusing on the next game, getting the next win.”

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