Garnet Valley falls short of trip to state tourne

LOWER MERION — Crammed into the unforgiving side of the District One boys lacrosse bracket, Garnet Valley coach Frank Urso quickly grasped the ramifications.

There would be no room for a mistake, a bad bounce, a ball ricocheting too often off the post, a slip, a slide, a mistake.

There would be no time, in other words, for the straits the Jags would encounter Thursday, in a 10-5 loss to Bishop Shanahan in the tournament’s fifth-place game at neutral-site Harriton.

“We started a little slow, and it seemed that every bounce went the other way,’ Urso said. “It seemed like we couldn’t pick up a ground ball. We would throw the ball away. And every bounce went their way.

“There was nothing we could do about it.’

With that, the Jags’ season was over at 15-5, a victory short of the state tournament. As for the Eagles, they will take their 18-2 record into that next challenge and will engage Saint Joseph’s Prep Wednesday.

Careful to give Shanahan credit, there may have been at least something in Urso’s postgame analysis. For while he was lamenting the Jaguars’ inability to find a break, John Heisman was calling his team’s performance the best in his six years as Shanahan’s head coach.

In that, it was the essential win-or-perish match. One team played its best. The other couldn’t explain the bounces.

“You can’t afford mistakes,’ Urso said. “And there was a lot of it today. But you know what? They played well. You’ve got to give them credit. They played a nice game.’

The Eagles played an aggressive game, taking 39 shots to the more patient Jaguars’ 22. By halftime, Shanahan had a 4-1 lead, Jerry Riccardo scoring both of his goals while doing plenty to announce the Eagles’ presence with his willingness to collide.

That lead expanded to 6-1 on goals from Ben Farrell and Ryan Smith within the first three minutes of the second half. But when a Shanahan goal was disallowed after a shot was ruled to have been from the crease, Garnet Valley stirred.

“We were never concerned about them giving up,’ said Urso said of the Jaguars. “They weren’t going to do that. They started battling and started coming back a little bit. And then, there were a couple more mistakes.’

Denny Nealon, who would later assist on a Tim Bradley goal, sparked the mini-rally with a goal. And with 2:11 left in the third, Matt Moore’s goal dragged Garnet Valley within 6-3.

But Shanahan’s Alex Wagner bagged two goals in the final 1:10 of the quarter, including one with three seconds left. Wagner would score a hat trick and add an assist.

“I’m ashamed,’ Nealon said. “We played a great game. That team fought hard. It was a little bit of too little, too late. It just shows that the best team in the state doesn’t always win.’

That was Nealon’s position and he was not budging.

The best? In the state?

“Without a doubt,’ he said.

So what went wrong?

“It goes back to last Saturday, when we lost to C.B. East,’ he said of a 12-11 overtime stumble. “We were much better than that C.B. East team. We didn’t come out strong. If we win that game, we are in the state (tournament). And we wouldn’t have had to worry about this.’

Shanahan, too, faced one-and-done circumstances, but was stronger both early and late. After Bradley and Jacob Buttermore scored early in the fourth to trim the deficit to 8-5, Sam Goforth and Wagner responded for Shanahan, eliminating the suspense and, in essence, the Jags.

Gray McKee scored with two seconds left in the first quarter for Garnet Valley. Ty Moschella assisted on Nealon’s goal.

Pat Corcoran provided a Shanahan goal, and goalie Jason Yoquinto excelled.

“Every kid played great,’ Heisman said. “We were playing against a superb team. We took care of business. We had a game plan. Our goalie played well. And these kids believe in themselves.

“Everything came together. We are kind of peaking at this time.’

When it’s down to win-or-else, as Garnet Valley realized, there is no alternative.

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