Conestoga finally breaks through — at Springfield’s expense

WEST GOSHEN >> It can easily be overlooked in the incredible run that Conestoga has had in recent years. The Pioneers can show off their 2016 state championship and a couple of Central League titles, and Conestoga’s trophy case is always accepting more hardware.

Despite that success, though, the Pioneers had yet to be crowned the best team in the District 1 tournament. A season ago, Radnor stunned then-unbeaten Conestoga in districts before the Pioneers exacted revenge in the state title game.

Bridget Whitaker of Springfield drives to an opening against Conestoga. Whitaker found the back of the net twice Thursday, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Cougars from falling, 12-8, in the District 1 Class 3A girls lacrosse championship. (For Digital First Media/Nate Heckenberger)

Thursday, Amy Orcutt’s group checked off the last box in the championship trifecta. The Pioneers downed Springfield, 12-8, in the Class 3A championship game at West Chester East to bring home Conestoga’s first District 1 title since 2006. The Pioneers will play District 1 No. 7 West Chester Rustin, a 9-8 winner over Abington for the final District 1 state berth, Tuesday in the first round of states. The Cougars will square off with District 3 No. 3 Exeter, which beat Governor Mifflin, 16-15, to earn the spot.

“It was a point of emphasis,” said Conestoga attacker Dana Cicchitti, who scored four times and set up Amelia Kienzle for another goal. “We definitely wanted to win it, especially after winning states. We were, like, ‘this is the one thing that’s missing from our team.’ We hadn’t won it in so long and we wanted it so bad, and we just came out with the win.”

The Pioneers came out like a team with gold on its mind, racing out to a 6-0 lead before the game was 14 minutes old. Cicchitti and Ceara Sweeney scored twice in that span, and Sweeney also set up a Kienzle goal. Goals from Olivia Pace and Bailey O’Brien temporarily stopped the bleeding for the Cougars, but Scottie Rose Growney, Sweeney and Cicchitti closed the half with markers.

“It’s definitely tough getting scored on (six) times in a row,” said Springfield All-Delco goalie Julianne Clemens, who stopped five shots. “Our team really stepped it up in the second half and once we started making slides, crashes and saves, it just elevated the whole play of the game. I think I was a little more frustrated in the second half, which pushed me harder to get an interception, clear faster or get a ground ball, but the pressure of it all definitely pushed me forward.”

True to form, the Cougars didn’t back down, piecing together a 5-0 run to cut the Conestoga lead to three goals. Olivia Little scored the last two goals of that stretch, including one where she outraced the defense for 60 yards before dropping home a goal. Little’s tallies gave the Pioneers reason to be on edge.

Anne Frascella put those doubts to rest when she stopped a low Bridget Whitaker shot with 6:15 to go after Whitaker had spun her way through traffic. Less than a minute later, Maggie O’Connell had a glorious chance to bring Springfield to within two, but her shot ripped off the post and out, where Conestoga picked up the rebound.

“It definitely helps after a couple of goals to get a big save like that,” said Frascella, who finished with six saves. “It helps me get some leverage and get my head back into the game.”

Sweeney and Cicchitti closed out the Cougars with goals 19 seconds apart. The loss means that district hardware won’t make its way to Springfield, but the Cougars know that they still have a chance to bring home the most important one of them all.

“We’re going to come back stronger,” said Whitaker, who had four draw controls to go with her two goals. “We’re ready to move on and we’re ready to win. I think we have to go for every 50-50 ball. That was one of our problems — they were getting a lot of the ground balls — and defensively, we definitely have to work on our slides.”

If they take care of business, the Cougars will have a chance to rectify the loss on the same field on June 10…with an even bigger piece of hardware on the line.

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