Haverford’s Melfe can’t quite contain Conestoga

TREDYFFRIN — Five months ago, Haverford’s Noah Melfe wasn’t thinking about who his Fords would play in the first round of the District One Tournament.

The junior was considering a switch from baseball, the sport he’d primarily played in his youth. He was pondering the opening for a JV goaltender that his lacrosse friends had mentioned. And having never picked up a lacrosse stick, with his only qualification to be a lacrosse goalie being that he’d worn a chest protector as a catcher in his baseball past, he was thinking about something else.

“Five months ago, I thought I was probably going to be the worst lacrosse player ever,’ Melfe said. “I wouldn’t imagine being here now.’

Tuesday, the “here’ proved to be the wrong end of a 13-6 decision at the hands of No. 10 Conestoga, sending the No. 23 seed Fords out of the first round of the District One Tournament. But the blame for that loss hardly rested with Melfe.

Melfe didn’t imagine he’d ever get much of a varsity chance this season, but once sophomore Danny Tierney went down with a broken leg, there wasn’t much choice. There were some growing pains in the middle of the season, but Tuesday illustrated just how far the goalie and his team have grown.

Melfe made 13 saves, several of the spectacular variety. He produced back-to-back, point-blank saves on Sam Friedman, the second a reflexive kick save after a turnover with Melfe well out of his crease, in the second quarter to energize the Haverford sideline.

He even got the Fords whipped into a frenzy when he turned a near-failed clear into a hopeful heave up the field that Mark Edler corralled, pirouetted and finished early in the second quarter to tie the score briefly at 2.

Melfe was one of the few effective defenses for the Fords (8-10) against a Conestoga barrage in the second quarter that put them in front to stay. The Pioneers scored four times in the quarter, outshooting Haverford 15-3. But Melfe kept Haverford in the game with four saves in the frame.

It’s been a challenge at times for Melfe to get up to speed, especially given the abundance of Division I talent in the Central League. His starting debut was a baptism by fire, blistered for 15 goals by Radnor April 14.

Melfe credited his teammates with helping him adapt so quickly.

“They’ve been working with me before and after practice a lot, which really helped,’ he said. “They’ve been supportive the whole time and never really gotten on me two much, so I think they’ve helped me a lot.’

Tuesday, his fellow Fords could’ve been more helpful in keeping possession. They were far too wasteful with the ball (despite Luke McCallion going 13-for-23 at the faceoff X) and not clinical enough on groundballs to keep Conestoga from inflicting damage.

When Conestoga did its usual goaltending switch at halftime, it took 14 minutes for Jack Green to be forced into action, just the second shot on target since the start of the second half despite three minutes of man-advantage for the Fords. Haverford’s only goal of the frame, a McCallion tally at 4:13, ended a goal drought of over 17 minutes stretching to Edler’s goal.

“We wanted the ball on our side to control the game, and we just didn’t have it,’ said attackman Bobby McClure, who dished three assists. “We played good defense, they just had the ball the whole time, so eventually they were going to sink their shots.’

The culprit was what could easily be misconstrued as unforced errors, or more accurately, subtly-forced errors. Conestoga’s speed and positioning made it difficult for Haverford to escape its zone. They switched up looks, mostly employing a zone defense but sprinkling in enough man-to-man to keep Haverford off balance.

And their superior poles, like Parke Schweiter and Jack Reilly, allowed them to be aggressive on the defensive end and force the Fords into uncomfortable passes and shots, even when Schweiter sat for a non-releasable, two-minute penalty early in the third.

“It was a concern, but we had a play where after a certain amount of passes, that we press out on the ball and just jump it,’ Reilly said. “That works against some teams and it was working last time we played them, so we really used what we knew from last time we played them.’

“They applied a lot of pressure and we didn’t handle that well,’ McClure said. “We didn’t move the ball quick enough. We kept our feet still and didn’t move the ball.’

With that much of the ball, Conestoga (10-9) was bound to make the Fords pay. Greg Taicher (three goals, two assists) put Conestoga ahead for good at 3-2 just 40 seconds after Edler’s acrobatic goal. That set off a string of six straight Pioneer goals, including a hat trick for Steven Hildebrand, that put the game out of reach. The turnovers fed Conestoga’s lethal transition offense, creating odd-man situations where Melfe was left no chance.

At least he could take solace in knowing that he’d avoided his most pessimistic predictions for his season.

“I think we definitely got better as the season went on,’ Melfe said. “After I stepped in, it was a little rough at first, but I think we improved toward the end of the year.’

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