Great Valley captures fourth straight Ches-Mont League title

East Whiteland — Even someone with very limited knowledge about girls lacrosse would appreciate everything that was on the line at Great Valley on Tuesday night. In a winner-take-all contest for the Ches-Mont League title it was sports at its absolute finest.

Both teams entered the game with perfect-league records. Great Valley was unbeaten at home and Unionville was undefeated on the road, and both Lisa Aikman and Kim Wenger are first-year head coaches for programs that haven’t missed a beat.

In the end, it was the Patriots who held on for an 8-7 victory en route to their fourth-straight Ches-Mont title.

“It feels really, really good,’ goalie Mia Tornetta said. “I feel like the world was lifted off my shoulders after tonight’s win.’

The Indians (10-1, 13-3) opened up the game with a 1-0 lead when Quinn Benintende scored her first of a team-high three goals on an eight-meter shot.

It was the only time they would lead. The teams went back and forth with possessions. While both offenses were crisp, and well structured, the goalies for each team were that much better.

“I thought the defense was great tonight. I felt really comfortable out there,’ Unionville’s goalie Madison Doucette said.

Doucette and the Indians defense held the explosive Patriots (10-0, 14-3) offense scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the game.

“It really brings my game up making save after save,’ Doucette said. “To play against a great goalie like Mia (Tornetta) it is so much fun. Each time she made a big save, I wanted to respond for my team.’

She finished with 11 saves and as good as the freshman was for the visitors, Tornetta was that much better.

“My defense helps me so much,’ Tornetta said. “We communicate with each other really well and help me when there is a tough shot on a weird angle.’

Tornetta finished with 13 saves but that number does not reflect the difficulty and timeliness of her stops. Having some experience playing in a Ches-Mont title a year ago helped the sophomore stay focused.

“I thought about the Ches-Mont title game a year ago and knew that if I could do it then, I could do it again tonight,’ Tornetta said.

The Patriots tied the score at 1-1 when Linnea Hughes charges the right side and fired a bullet past Doucette’s right hip. She finished with a game-high four goals.

“We really were looking for good possessions,’ Hughes said. “We knew we couldn’t turn the ball over so I just tried to take the smartest shots I could.’

90 seconds later the junior struck again on an eight-meter.

Unionville responded on the ensuing draw. Two of the Indians captains, Quinn Benintende and Cassie Blair showcased their chemistry when they connected on arguably the prettiest goal of the evening. Benintende drove down the field around the net, and centered the ball to Blair who scored before Tornetta could fully turn around.

“We came into this game knowing we had nothing to lose,’ Benintende said. “We knew how good of a team they are and we played really hard.’

The Patriots controlled the tempo for the final 12 minutes of the opening half, and broke the 2-2 tie when Kristen Knaff scored on a shot across her body.

They made it 4-2 when Hughes found an open Natalie Kahn who blew it past Doucette.

After an Indians turnover, Doucette bailed her team out. With less than 10 seconds in the half, she denied Olivia Muscella from point-blank range, keeping the score at 4-2 at halftime.

The final 25 minutes proved to be nothing short of unpredictable.

The home team delivered the first blow three minutes in. Hughes received a pass from Kahn right in front of the net and tossed it through Doucette’s five hole.

For many teams, giving up three-unanswered goals to a program that hasn’t lost to a Ches-Mont opponent at home since 2009 – – 36 consecutive games before tonight – – would probably be the knockout punch. That being said most teams don’t have the leadership of Unionville.

16 seconds after the Patriots made it 5-2, the Indians answered. Katie Garvey, another senior captain, found Blair who juked around Tornetta for the momentum-shifting goal.

Three minutes later the Indians struck again. This time Emma Walter scored on an eight-meter. Immediately the bench, as well as the fans who made the 21 mile trip over to Great Valley exploded.

But the young Patriots team stayed poised. Sophomore, Olivia Muscella made a statement scoring back-to-back goals to bulk up their lead back to three goals.

“It was a big point in the game. We had to step up and take back control and regain the momentum,’ Muscella said.

Benintende made it 7-5 on an absolute missile to the right of Tornetta, but once again Hughes scored to keep the gap at three.

From the 10-minute mark to the three-minute mark Great Valley spread the offense out and put on a pitch and catch clinic.

“We have good chemistry,’ Muscella said. “We simulate those types of things in practice. We had to spread out and keep the ball moving. We needed to catch and throw and not them pressure us.’

It resembled the late University of North Carolina’s basketball coach Dean Smith’s four-corner offense as they held the ball and watched the clock dwindle down.

“I think these girls continue to mature,’ Wenger said. “In the beginning of the season I’m not sure we hold onto this game. So I like that it’s a step in the right direction.’

With only 2:08 left in the game Unionville finally regained possession and called a timeout. It appeared it would be too-little too-late. Once again they answered the call.

Katie Garvey made it 8-6 when she scored on an eight-meter with 1:26 remaining to keep her team in it.

“I thought we adjusted to their high pressure defense,’ Garvey said. “We were able to feel them out and then make the correct adjustments to score at the end.’

They then won a much needed draw and moved the ball down the field. With 62 seconds left, Benintende scored on an eight-meter that cut the game to one and made anyone filling out of the stadium stop dead in their tracks to watch the wild finish.

The Patriots remained calm and ran the final minute off the clock out after gaining possession on the final draw.

As the final horn rang the white and royal blue jerseys swarmed the field and smothered their goalie on her spectacular performance.

There are high expectations for a program that has been as successful as Great Valley’s and Wenger has shown just how great of a job she has done in her first year.

“It feels really good,’ Wenger said. “I am really proud of them tonight. We’ll bounce back and get right back to work tomorrow because we a lot more left this season.’

They finish the regular season at Downingtown East on Thursday before finding out who they play in the District 1 playoffs next week.

“We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We can’t get cocky,’ Muscella said. “There is hopefully a lot more ahead for us so we need to stay focused if we want to continue to succeed.’

For the Indians, it was the second straight time they lost to Great Valley by one goal, and it was their first regular-season road loss since March 27, 2014.

“We came out strong. We are two evenly matched teams,’ Aikman said. “We got down at the end, but I am really proud of the way the girls fought back. This one is done, we learn from it and we have to move on from this.’

They finish the regular season on Saturday at nonleague opponent Villa Maria.

“I think we gained a lot of energy after we scored those last couple goals,’ Blair said. “When they would jump on us we responded. We came back at the end and that shows what type of team we are and what we can do for the rest of the season.’


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