ELVERSON — Max Busenkell called his team’s previous game one of the biggest upsets in program history.
So you might fear if you were Garnet Valley, that playing on a Saturday morning, far from home, against an opponent that on paper they were superior to, could perhaps produce an emotional letdown in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 3A tournament.
If any Jaguar was dozing against Cumberland Valley, however, one thunderous swipe of Sean Gallagher’s stick would’ve awakened them.
The Garnet Valley defense that spearheaded the somewhat stunning first-round toppling of La Salle cued another states victory Saturday, allowing just one first-half goal on the way to an 11-5 win at Twin Valley Middle School.
The Jaguars (18-6) advance to the state semifinals for the second consecutive year. That they’ve done so via defense instead of a potent offense is a midstream pivot that is both surprising and welcome.
“Everything, I feel like, is just clicking now,” defender Bear Evans said. “Couldn’t be more proud of all of us and how we’ve been playing. What we’ve done in these past few weeks, we’ve grown so much as a whole defense.”
Gallagher was the catalyst Saturday, with a sweeping check to cause a turnover five minutes into a scoreless game in which GV had already come up empty on a man-up chance. The United States Naval Academy signee outletted in transition to Drew Goldt, who touched it to Busenkell to fire home.
“That gets everyone up,” Evans said. “Gal gets a nice GB and runs it down the field. That gets everyone pumped.”
Two minutes later, a yard sale in the defensive zone off a Tyler Saccomandi hit led to the Jags pushing the pace, Busenkell finding Ryan Nealon.
Between Tuesday, when Garnet Valley jumped out to a 7-5 lead and held on for a 7-6 win over the District 12 champs, and Saturday’s 7-1 lead, the Jaguars allowed just two goals in 48 minutes of lacrosse. They entered states allowing 7.1 goals per game, in a league where at least two other teams (Radnor and Springfield) cut more fearsome defensive reputations.
There are many factors at play. Sam DiTrolio was 13-for-18 on faceoffs to control possession, though the team was only 6-for-10 in the first half yet still allowed just three total Cumberland Valley shots. Drew Keaveney came up with six big saves when needed but wasn’t heavily taxed.
With Gallagher, an LSM at the next level but a lockdown matchup defender for the Jags, replacing Towson-bound All-Delco Sam Morin last year, roles had to shift. Evans and Saccomandi returned with experience, and Daniel Husain, a wrestling All-Delco, has grown into the starting job at a position where the weakest link rather than the strongest determines a team’s stinginess.
“Everyone has just filled their role now,” Evans said, “and we’re just clicking.”
On the other end, it was the Busenkell show early, the Notre Dame signee crossing 150 points for the season. He tallied five goals and two assists, completing his hat trick with 5:49 left in the first half. Despite nine saves – including four point-blank denials of Busenkell howitzers – from Jacob Burd, the Jags scored early and often. Part of that was an Eagles defense missing two starters due to injuries.
The difference of late, though, has been scoring depth. Busenkell had only a goal and an assist against La Salle, with the sophomore Goldt supplying a hat trick. Saturday, Goldt had two first-quarter assists and two fourth-quarter goals.
“We told him, keep being confident,” Busenkell said of Goldt. “We could feel his confidence grow throughout the season. As a young guy, you start off the season a little shy and you’re not experienced in varsity games, but he’s done a great job growing throughout the season, doing what he does best, finding good spots, shooting and scoring.”
Nate Herbster scored four times for Cumberland Valley. He and Owen McKenzie scored within the first five minutes of the second half to make it 7-3. But Busenkell scored eight seconds into a man-up chance to make it 8-3, then 11 seconds into the fourth quarter for a 9-3 lead. Joey Halloran assisted on both.
All that offense means the Jags are onto the second week of states for a second straight year.
“It just feels great,” Evans said. “We’ve got a great core team. All of our seniors have been playing with each other since we were seven years old. We’ve all grown up together, so we’ve got a really good core group.”
Also in the Class 3A tournament:
Radnor 10, Shady Side Academy 7 >> Cooper Mueller and the Radnor midfield stepped up to book a third season match with Springfield, this time in the state semis on Tuesday. Mueller scored two goals to go with two assists. Nick Lucchesi added two goals from midfield.
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