RADNOR >> Two quarters later, it might’ve seemed ludicrous that the game was ever that close. But in a span of 17 seconds in the first quarter Friday, the Inter-Ac Tournament semifinal between Haverford School and Episcopal Academy hung very much in the balance.
The Fords led by two, but EA had a chance to kick start its attack with a man advantage. Jackson Tuma’s shot appeared ticketed for the near post, but Haverford goalie Harrison Fellheimer scooped a low bouncer. In the blink of an eye, Fellheimer outleted to an in-stride Gavin Burke, who chugged up the field and found a locked-and-loaded TJ Malone to pump home a short-handed goal.
Tic-tac-toe, out the door went EA’s chances.
When Fellheimer and the robust Haverford attack finally rested, the difference was decisive, a 15-9 win for the Fords, a final score embellished by the Churchmen notching the last six goals.
Fellheimer headed for the sidelines with the Fords up 15-3 early in the fourth, a more representative margin. But despite the Fords offense unleashing fury in a seven-goal third quarter and a stretch of nine goals in 10 minutes, 22 seconds after halftime, that passing connection between Fellheimer and Burke was as important as any in sparking the surge.
“Harrison played tremendous today,” Burke said. “He had a ton of great saves. And once he made the save, we broke out and I knew that TJ would set up for a shot, and he buried it. It’s great to get goals like that to set the tone of the game.”
“We practice this — it’s called ‘leak’ — where Burke just runs up the field,” Fellheimer said. “And if he’s open, I throw it ahead of him and he catches it and that usually leads to a 4-on-3 transition. And he moves it around and we got the goal.”
The top-seeded Fords (16-3) advance to Monday’s final to take on No. 2 Malvern Prep, which edged No. 3 Penn Charter, 9-8, in the nightcap. The final at Cabrini will start at 7 p.m.
Burke scored 12 seconds into a game where the Fords never trailed, a far cry from the 9-8 overtime classic the two teams jousted to in the regular season. Burke played a larger role in pitching a first-half shutout, up 6-0 at the break. Fellheimer made eight first-half saves, including a spectacular double stop on a scramble in the second quarter. The defensive unit, led by the tenacity of Burke and the shot-altering checks of fellow defensive midfielder Jack Leary, did the dirty work to keep EA off the board.
TJ Malone is a menace. 6.2 left to half. 6-0 Fords. Five goals from Malone. pic.twitter.com/EMTxVnO8Qq
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) May 18, 2018
Burke and Leary are two vital cogs that can be easily overlooked. But their hard work kept fourth-seeded EA’s outside shooters off-balance, funneling them toward low-percentage shots that Fellheimer gobbled up to get dialed in.
“Leary played awesome today,” Burke said. “He played great defense on their middies. A lot of times when you’re playing defense and they let the stick show, it’s great to check down and try to get a few stops in transition. Leary got a great amount of transition plays that led to goals.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Episcopal Academy vs. Haverford School
Then there’s that attack, runaway freight train that it can be. Malone did the heavy lifting early, with five goals by halftime. He finished with six goals and four assists in a virtuoso performance.
The Fords poured in on, scoring every which way. Scott Deck, operating behind the net, had a goal and two assists. Adam Salvaggio dodged from up top to collect a goal and two helpers. Peter Garno scored twice, including a sublime behind-the-back shot dished by Malone. And Luke O’Grady registered a hat trick.
Deck to Salvaggio man up. Darn that’s pretty. 8-1 Fords. pic.twitter.com/bHLL6ap0ny
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) May 18, 2018
But O’Grady and Malone showed the multifaceted danger that comes even when respecting the Haverford attack for the lethal hydra that it is. O’Grady’s fearsome shot is one that defenders key on. But when they close down on his long windup, he can feather a deft touch pass cross-crease on a man-up situation, as in the fourth for Malone’s final marker. The third man-up tally of the day, Malone needed only nudge it past the goal line.
“It’s so awesome,” Malone said of the dynamic up top. “We’ve been playing with each other for so long. So it’s just that we’ve worked together every day at practice, and our chemistry is just getting stronger and stronger. It’s just awesome when you have so many guys with different skillsets and you can just complement each other.”
The Fords’ offensive outburst was all the more impressive given that EA goalie Matt Chess was exceptional in the first half. He turned aside five shots early to keep the Churchmen in touch and finished with 10 saves, but the incessant onslaught was just too much.
Chess produced one sensational double save late in the first quarter, denying a Malone behind-the-back effort then kicking out to stone Salvaggio. But that kind of inspirational goaltending didn’t translate to offensive momentum.
“You’ve just got to hold up, keep up, stay up as a defense and you can’t let down,” Chess said. “You give one up, you look back up. … Hopefully I can get another save and the defense has momentum from that. I think as a D unit, that’s good for us. Whether we throw it away or not, we’re still going to gain momentum just from those plays I think.”
Nick Bates, Charlie Cunniffe and Gabe Furey scored twice each for EA, Cunniffe adding an assist. But most of the damage arrived only after Fellheimer had taken a seat and the game’s outcome was settled.
By then, the damage had been done, thanks to a moment of perfect execution from defense to midfield to attack.
“It was getting our momentum ready, and we didn’t look back from there,” Malone said. “We just kept going.”