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Bathon, Bishop Shanahan solve Strath Haven defense to reach district final

DOWNINGTOWN >> Last fall, during football season, Bishop Shanahan’s Dan Bathon sat on an exam room table at his doctor’s office, fearing he had just seen his senior lacrosse season disappear.

“I was talking to my doctor after I found out I tore my ACL, and I looked him right in the eyes and asked if there was any way I could get back for my senior year of lacrosse,” Bathon said. “It’s been a lot of hard work to get back to this moment, and now we’re here, we have a special team and we can go as far as we want to.”

Bathon led the way with four goals Tuesday night as Bishop Shanahan finally solved a stingy Strath Haven defense late in the third quarter and surged to a 9-6 win in the District 1 Class 3A semifinal to earn a spot in the District 1 Class 2A title game Thursday night against Springfield at West Chester Henderson at 6 p.m.

Momentum was difficult to come by for either team, and for much of the night, it was visiting Strath Haven who seemed inches away from pulling away.

After Shanahan’s Andrew Smyth scored his 20th goal of the season late in the third quarter to boost the Eagles, Strath Haven’s Nicky Palermo answered with a goal of his own 82 seconds later to restore a two-goal lead.

But after controlling the pace with physical man-to-man defense much of the night, Strath Haven let things get away as the third quarter bled into the fourth. Top-seeded Shanahan finished the game on a 6-1 scoring run, and will be going for its first ever district title on Thursday. The win locked up a state tourney berth for the Eagles, and sent Strath Haven to a do-or-die consolation game Thursday against Radnor for the final state berth.

“(Strath Haven) makes you look bad,” said Shanahan coach Jon Heisman. “We figured out how to make ourselves look good while they were doing the same thing.”

The tide seemed to turn after Bryan Rafferty put one into the back of the net off a quick pass from Connor Heisman late in the third quarter. Over the next two minutes of game action that carried over into the fourth quarter, the Eagles scored two more goals to take a 6-5 lead.

Shanahan never looked back, and a game that was once controlled by Strath Haven’s suffocating defense flipped in a matter of minutes.

“We’ve never been down this season so that was a learning experience for us,” junior midfielder Connor Whalen said. “We just played hard and wanted it more because we’ve never been district champions.”

Shanahan struggled throughout the first half securing ground balls and generating easy looks around the net. Facing an early 3-1 deficit, the Eagles’ attack was aggressive in taking the ball inside, but the Panther defense was poised, leading to more time of possession on the other end of the field.

Slowing down Jeffrey Connor was a point of emphasis for the Eagles, as the senior attack-midfielder has recorded over 300 points during his career. After scoring two quick goals in the first quarter, Connor struggled to get off good shots.

“I don’t think any game plan works against (Connor),” Heisman said. We went to a zone a bit to shut him off but (Nic Penzone) made some nice saves on him.”

Connor Whalen drew the initial assignment of defending Connor. The junior midfielder stayed with Connor, matching his quickness but imposing his physicality on the matchup.

“I know he’s one of the best players around here and I wanted to step up and show everyone what I’m about,” Whalen said. Myself and the rest of the defense just played hard and shut him down.

Strath Haven coach Jef Hewlings credited the athleticism of Shanahan wearing out his team in the second half. He was pleased with how Connor found his teammates when he couldn’t get a shot off but cited the difference in the game came down to finishing plays.

“In the first half we outplayed Shanahan, but we didn’t finish,” Hewlings said. “It was a 3-2 game at halftime, but we thought it could have been 6-2. Against a team like that you better take care of your chances.”



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