Conner shoots high, Strath Haven reaches states

LOWER MERION >> By the time the clock ticked under a minute, Jeffrey Conner’s four-man chess match was reduced to three players.

The plan of attack for Strath Haven most of the postseason focused on Conner and Will Huestis, but Bishop Shanahan had effectively muted the latter. So in a tie game, with the dogged defense of All-American long-stick midfielder Ryan McNulty hounding Conner and Shanahan goalie Jason Yoquinto growing in confidence one save at a time, the sophomore attackman figured he’d have to resort to a new tactic.

“I knew in order to get there, I would have to dodge, we would have to create something,” Conner said. “… After (McNulty) stripped me, I knew I had him earlier in the game and he had me. We were going back and forth, so I knew I had to do something. I got that GB, and put one away.”

Conner’s third goal stood as the game-winner with 30 seconds left, piloting No. 5 seed Strath Haven to a 6-5 win over No. 4 Shanahan in the District One quarterfinals at Harriton High School.

Haven (17-4) advances to its first PIAA tournament since the governing body began sanctioning the sport in 2008. First, the Panthers will tangle with top-seeded Avon Grove in Tuesday’s district semifinal.

Conner and Yoquinto played cat-and-mouse all game. The Saint Joseph’s commit scored 38 seconds in but then was kept relatively quiet by the blanketing of McNulty, one of the area’s premier defenders. Conner also had to outfox Yoquinto, who collected 10 saves, including six excellent denials in the fourth quarter, many by getting his lanky frame low and refusing the Panthers the lower part of the net.

He did that well at the 2:46 mark, parrying a shot by Huestis, but the rebound fell to Sam Mutz, who passed off to Conner to rifle one high and into the net, tying the game at 5.

Shanahan — thanks to McNulty, who won the final eight draws of the game — controlled the ensuing faceoff, but an unforced turnover behind the net gifted Haven the chance to end it. The ball found its way to Conner, who tried to elude McNulty’s incessant stick checks but coughed up the ball, recovering on the ground. For his final salvo, he started behind the net, dragged McNulty out to Yoquinto’s left, faked to the middle then got his weight behind a shot that whistled over Yoquinto’s lowered cradle.

“We had a scouting report that said he likes to bait you high,” Conner said. “Earlier in the game, I was trying my low bounce shots, but that wasn’t working. Last shot, I knew I had to go high, so I went high.”

“Every time he shot, he shot low,” Yoquinto said of Conner. “I wasn’t used to him shooting high. So when he took that shot, I guess I guessed on it instead of holding that pipe and staying true to it.”

The final play was left to Haven’s Noah Frantz. All afternoon, he and Anders Camp has effectively muted Shanahan’s top weapons. Camp kept 200-goal scorer Alex Wagner to just two assists, and Sam Goforth and Connor Heisman scored twice each.

But on the final play, Frantz knew not to overthink what little time remained.

“Their best players are going to go to goal, and we’ve got to stop them,” Frantz said. “They’re probably not going to feed it, but we just have to stop their runs. I kind of forgot what happened. I was on someone, and we got the ball down.”

Shanahan enforced a plodding pace most of the game, content to hold possession for extended stretches. Haven struck twice in eight seconds in the second quarter, Mazur scoring off a Jake Ross feed, then winning a draw and tic-tac-toeing through Mutz to Tyler Fink. Goforth tied matters at 3 before halftime, and Mazur and Goforth traded third-quarter goals as the stalemate endured.

“It’s a little more stressful because we weren’t scoring as much,” Frantz said. “… A game like that, where it’s much more low-scoring and there’s much longer possessions, you’ve really got to value the ball.”

Heisman put Shanahan up 5-4 with 9:36 to play, shooting through a screen and past Will Brake (nine saves). But Conner had the last two laughs, guaranteeing that at least three games remain in the Panthers’ decorated season.

“This is what we were hoping for all year,” Conner said. “This is the dream for this team. We wanted to get there. Now we want to go and compete and try to bring one back to Strath Haven.”

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