Malvern – For the second year in a row, the Bishop Shanahan girls’ lacrosse team has made PIAA post-season history.
Last spring, Shanahan made its first-ever PIAA state tournament appearance.
Tuesday, the red-hot Eagles soared to another program first, advancing to their first-ever District 1 championship final with a 10-9 win against No. 1 seed Villa Maria in the District 1 2A semifinal.
The victory was the ninth consecutive win for Shanahan (14-7, seeded fifth in the district tourney), and it came against a Villa Maria squad (17-4) that had defeated its first two opponents in the District 1 tournament by a combined score of 42-4.
“We were so excited for this game,” said Shanahan junior attack Kaela Smith, who scored five goals. “We’ve been practicing so hard the past few days, and we beat Villa Maria in a scrimmage last year, so we knew we were capable of beating them [today].
“Before every game the coaches have been telling us, ‘This is your game.’ They knew we could [beat Villa]. The moment the game ended I was so happy, knowing that we had made history.”
With the victory, the No. 5 seed Eagles will face third seed Radnor in the District 1 2A championship final Thursday at 4 p.m. at a site to be determined (as of Tuesday evening).
Tuesday afternoon, the Eagles controlled the first half against Villa Maria, getting out to a 6-2 lead on the strength of some patient, well-executed offense by the visitors, who were making very few turnovers.
“The key was staying calm – we had to stay focused,” said Smith, who tallied a trio of goals in the first half.
Shanahan also received some nifty netminding in the first half from sophomore goalie Jess Gorr, who recorded six saves before halftime.
With seven seconds to go before halftime, Shanahan senior attack Alyssa Manley connected on a well-timed shot in front of the cage to give the visitors a 6-2 lead.
Villa Maria head coach Allie Mongan said, “In the first half, I don’t think we played well together, we weren’t playing team lacrosse. Shanahan outhustled us in the first half.
“At halftime I told our team to settle down, that we’ve been behind [at the half] and were able to come back before. In the second half, I think we showed a little more fight, and a little more hustle.”
The top seeded Hurricanes began to rally after halftime, getting goals from four different attack players – sophomore Sarah Delaney, senior Bri Bamber, senior Annina Iacobucci and freshman Hannah Young – to cut Shanahan’s lead to 7-6 less than 10 minutes into the second half.
Villa Maria capped its fantastic comeback when senior midfielder Audrey Fantazzia scored twice in one minute, getting well-placed assists from Young and junior midfielder Erin Finley from behind the cage to give the Hurricanes an 8-7 lead.
Smith said, “We got a little frazzled when we fell behind, but we realized that there was no going back. We were either going to the championship game or the consolation game, and we regained our confidence.”
Shanahan freshman Monica Manley helped to settle the Eagles’ nerves when she connected with 12:47 to play (assisted by Alyssa Manley) to tie the score at 8-8.
One minute later, Smith scored her fifth goal of the game to put Shanahan for good, 9-8. It tied the personal one-game high for the St. Joseph’s University commit.
With 10:34 to play, Alyssa Manley gave the visitors some breathing room with her second goal of the game. Manley continued to add to her school-record career goal total, now at 234. She also dished out a number of key assists in Tuesday’s contest.
Shanahan’s fourth-year head coach Laura Capuano said, “I am so proud of my girls, they never gave up, even when they fell behind [after losing a 6-2 lead]. Late in the game, we fell back on our experience – we’ve had a number of games that were close this season, and that helped us today.”
Villa Maria’s Bri Bamber scored with 7:55 left to cut the visitors’ lead to 10-9, then Shanahan began to control the ball as the clock wound down. But an Eagle turnover at 2:59, followed by an immediate Villa Maria timeout, gave the Hurricanes one last chance.
Villa brought the ball downfield deep into Shanahan territory, but did not convert, committing a turnover in front of the cage at 1:33. Shanahan controlled the ball the rest of the way.
The AACA champion Hurricanes now will face No. 2 seed Gwynedd Mercy in the third-place game Thursday, then will be heading to the PIAA state tournament.
Mongan said, “We’re lucky to live to fight another day. I told our players that every team from here on out will be just as good as Shanahan, and that every game is going to get tougher. We need to start [playing productively] from the beginning of the game, to be calmer at the start. Our goal now is advancing in the state tournament.”
Bishop Shanahan 10, Villa Maria 9
Bishop Shanahan 6 4 – 10
Villa Maria 2 7 – 9
Bishop Shanahan goals: Smith 5, M. Manley 2, A. Manley 2, Staska.
Villa Maria goals: Young 2, Finley, Delaney, Bamber 2, An. Iacobucci, Fantazzia 2.
Goalie saves: Gorr (BS) 9, Medve (VM) 5.