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Avon Grove wins first-ever boys’ lacrosse state title, nipping Conestoga in double OT

WEST GOSHEN >> Zach Augustine saw his opening. All that was left was to hope teammate Brendan Harman saw him.

“I saw Brendan [Harman] cut behind the net, and I was hoping he would see me — I was open,” said Augustine. “He threw it right to me, and as soon as the ball came to me, I shot it as hard as I could. When my shot went into the net, I just ran to my teammates as fast as I could. It’s a dream come true — it’s [almost] unbelievable.”

In the afterglow of Avon Grove’s first ever PIAA Class 3A championship, it’s easy to see how Augustine could have had trouble believing what just happened.

Augustine’s goal lifted Avon Grove to an emotional 5-4 double-overtime win over Conestoga Saturday in front of a standing room-only crowd at West Chester East’s Harold Zimmerman Stadium.

[FOR A PHOTO GALLERY FROM SATURDAY’S GAME, CLICK HERE]

“When I saw the ball going to Zach, I had a feeling he was going to score,” said Avon Grove senior midfielder Doug Jones. “Words can’t explain what I felt when his shot went in the net — just complete happiness.”

Red Devil senior goalie Kevin Malone said, “When I saw Zach’s shot hit the net, it was the happiest moment in my life.”

Avon Grove junior midfielder and faceoff man Nate Hammond said, “That moment [he scored] was just insane. We all threw our gloves in the air and ran toward the goal.”

In a tight defensive affair, Avon Grove exacted the ultimate revenge on Conestoga, which beat the Red Devils in the District 1 championship two weeks ago.

Harman not only assisted on the game-winner but scored two goals of his own in the win.

“The feeling of winning our first state championship hasn’t sunk in yet,” Harman said. “We’ve battled adversity all year, we lost the district title to Conestoga, and to beat them in the state final tastes sweet.”

Avon Grove head coach Eric Jackson said, “When I saw [Augustine’s] goal go in, I thought, ‘Finally, we’ve won it.’ Somebody had to win, and it’s unfortunate that Conestoga had to lose — I give a lot of credit to Conestoga.”

While the Pioneers never led in Saturday’s contest, they tied the contest on three occasions, the final time with 1.3 seconds left in regulation on a goal by senior attack Henry Berg. It capped a remarkable Pioneer comeback in the last 2 1/2 minutes of regulation, with Conestoga coming back from a 4-2 deficit.

Avon Grove’s defense rose to the occasion Saturday, and particularly shone in the first half, when it held the Pioneers to one goal en route to a 2-1 halftime lead. The Red Devils had an 11-3 advantage in shots on goal in the first half.

“Our defense killed it in this game,” said Hammond.

“We made some [defensive] mistakes in the district final against Conestoga [a 14-12 loss] that we worked on cleaning up in preparing for this game,” said Jackson. “In [the district final], I think we left our goalie out to dry a little bit.”

Malone, who is headed to Catholic University to play lacrosse, made a number of fine saves throughout the game to help keep Conestoga at bay.

“In the overtime periods, I felt confident,” said Malone. “I trust our defense a ton. Conestoga is a great team, but every time we went ahead by a goal, we just had to stay focused [on keeping the lead].”

Harman gave Avon Grove its first lead with a goal four minutes into the contest. The Red Devils kept that 1-0 lead the rest of the first quarter.

Early in the second period, Conestoga drew even when Pioneer junior attack Drew Mullen scored on an assist from senior midfielder Hunter Gregory. The game remained tied for the next seven minutes, until Jones fired a shot into the upper left hand corner of the net with 1:59 before halftime to give Avon Grove a 2-1 lead.

“We were moving the ball downfield very quickly, I gave the [Conestoga defender] a hitch and he froze [momentarily], and I got past him,” said Jones. “I saw the left side open and shot as hard as I could.”

Conestoga senior attack Tommy Sopko, who scored more than 70 goals for the Pioneers this season, tied the score at 2-2 just after halftime.

Meanwhile, Pioneer junior goalie Scott MacMillan continued to make several impressive saves and the game remained tied until Avon Grove junior midfielder Scooter Whiteside scored (with an assist from junior defender Bryce DeMuth) to put the Red Devils ahead 3-2 with 5:28 left in the third quarter.

With 22 seconds left in the third period, Harman scored his second goal of the game, with an assist from Augustine.

In the fourth quarter, Avon Grove was playing a patient game, passing the ball around frequently, but following a Red Devil turnover Sopko scored his second goal of the game, firing a shot into the upper right corner with 2:20 left to make the score 4-3.

Both teams missed shots on goal in the final minute of regulation, but when Berg scored with 1.3 seconds left, it sent the game into overtime.

Conestoga won the first overtime faceoff, moved the ball downfield but failed to score. Following several long possessions and a fine save by MacMillan, the game went into a second overtime, when Augustine scored his game-winner.

Following the game, Conestoga head coach Brody Bush took his team to the far end of the field, where he spoke to them for several minutes.

“I told them not to hang their heads,” said Bush. “One goal doesn’t define a team. We played down to the last second of the last game of the season. Of course, they’re disappointed, as I am, but Avon Grove had a good gameplan. In fact, both teams had a good gameplan. We have 20 juniors on this team, [only] five seniors, so a lot of our players will be back next year.”

Jackson got his first title after coaching the Red Devils in a loss to Penncrest in the 2014 PIAA final.

“This group is special, but it’s great to see all the [Avon Grove] alumni here too,” Jackson said. “Those teams [from before 2017] laid the foundation for this. Some of those players said to me, ‘Congratulations coach,’ after our win, and to that I told them, ‘This win was for you guys too.’”

Jones, who was a freshman on the 2014 team, said, “I remember seeing their faces [after the state title loss] and thinking, ‘If we ever get a chance to get back to the state final, I’m going to win it for them.’ They’ve done so much for us, and now I hope to be able to give back to future teams in the same way.”

Avon Grove 5, Conestoga 4
Conestoga    0    1    1    2    0    0 – 4
Avon Grove    1    1    2    0    0    1 – 5
Conestoga goals: Sopko 2, Mullen, Berg.
Avon Grove goals: Harman 2, Jones, Whiteside, Augustine.
Goalie saves: MacMillan (CO) 10, Malone (AG) 8.

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