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PIAA Class 3A Boys Lacrosse: Radnor clamps down (again) defensively, beats Garnet Valley for state title

Garnet Valley's Max Busenkell, left, is slowed down by Radnor long stick artist Will Gallagher during the PIAA Class 3A championship game between the teams Saturday at West Chester East. (PETE BANNAN - DAILY TIMES)

WEST GOSHEN — No one had as good a vantage point as Will Gallagher, and even he can’t divine an answer.

A year ago, the Notre Dame signee was part of a Radnor defensive unit that averaged four goals allowed per game on the way to a state title. Gone from that team, which handled Kennett at West Chester East in a stunningly dominant final, were three impact players.

This year, Radnor was, somehow, better. As a team, the Raptors won a Central League title and a District 1 crown, Gallagher marshaling a youthful but talented rearguard. As a unit, allowing 5.1 goals per game may have been an ever so slight statistical step backward. But nobody who watched what Radnor did Saturday, shackling Garnet Valley for a second straight state title, would quibble about what this year’s unit was capable of.

Radnor took charge, holding Garnet Valley to two goals through three quarters and muzzling Max Busenkell, adding up to a 12-5 win at West Chester East’s Zimmerman Stadium.

Ryan Goldstein, left, and Mason Montrella celebrate a Radnor goal as the Raptors were on their way to a state championship win over Garnet Valley Saturday at West Chester East. (PETE BANNAN – DAILY TIMES)

The Raptors (24-2) are the first team to repeat as state champion in the largest classification since Conestoga in 2011-12. (Springfield won consecutive state titles in two different classifications in 2016 and ’17.) That 2012 Conestoga team is also the last to win the Central, District 1 and PIAA titles in the biggest classification in the same season.

So much of its success came via Radnor’s superlative defense, where Gallagher struggles to draw a line between last year’s unit and this year’s.

“It was kind of cool watching them get better and more mature over the year,” Gallagher said. “They might be better than last year, but I can’t pick a favorite.”

Last year’s unit featured Gallagher playing with Daily Times Player of the Year Grant Pierce, now at the University of North Carolina. The Raptors also lost goalie Robert Hobbs, a Division II All-American at Bowdoin College, and short-stick defensive middie Mark McKeon, bound for Penn State after a post-grad year.

This year’s team didn’t rebuild; it reloaded, with Gallagher as the leader. Super sophomore Michael Savadove stepped into one of the largest roles, and he was outstanding Saturday, with six caused turnovers.  Every time Garnet Valley (19-7) tried to get anything going, Savadove’s stick was in the lane.

“He’s been doing that all year,” Gallagher said of Savadove. “I don’t know if he exactly gets the credit he deserves. But he’s been awesome all year. He takes the pressure off of everybody else because of the plays he makes with his stick, groundballs and with his feet. He’s phenomenal, and he’s going to be so good next year and so good in college.”

It’s not an individual effort, Gallagher will tell you. But Gallagher shouldered the biggest offensive load, taking on Busenkell, who entered the game with 162 points on the season. He exited with 162 points, shut out for the first time all season.

Of course, Gallagher got plenty of help. Nate Brown made four saves in goal. Savadove, Pablo Strid, Luciano Chadha and LSMs Thomas Barton and Sammy Carter were part of an utterly dominant performance that had the game at 2-2 at half and allowed Radnor to explode for seven fourth-quarter goals.

The low-scoring first half was fine by Garnet Valley, and the first 24 minutes were an all-around display of defensive brilliance. Just as Will Gallagher kept the clamps on Busenkell, Garnet Valley’s Sean Gallagher (no relation) handled Ryan Goldstein, keeping him off the board for the first half.

“That’s right where we wanted to be at halftime,” the Navy-bound Sean Gallagher said. “We wanted to keep it close. Unfortunately, we just ran out of gas at the end.”

That didn’t last, though, with Goldstein breaking his shackles for two goals and four assists after the break. Coupled with the midfield depth that the Raptors are able to wield, they wore down Garnet Valley.

Nick Lucchesi fires a shot in the first half as Radnor defeated Garnet Valley in the PIAA Class 3A Championship Saturday at West Chester East High School to repeat as state champions. (PETE BANNAN – DAILY TIMES)

Nate Lucchesi had a goal and an assist in the first half. Tommy Deshan and Will Kaplan chipped in midfield goals, and Nick Lucchesi added one.

“We’re so deep with our guys,” Nick Lucchesi said. “We trust everyone to run by their guy. Like our coach says, ‘beat a man and score a goal.’ Every single guy on that field can do that. I’m comfortable giving the ball to any one of my guys.”

All that allowed Goldstein to orchestrate the attack. Mason Montrella cleared space with two goals in the third quarter to open up a 4-2 lead. Colin French scored the first of his two goals 89 seconds into the fourth, and though Luke Mingioni pegged it back, French scored again to kick off six Radnor goals in 4:35 to salt the game away.

That came despite Drew Keaveney standing tall in goal with eight saves, including back-to-back point-blank denials early in the fourth before French scored at 7:55 to thrust the dagger into the heart and make it 7-3. Garnet Valley also won the faceoff battle, with Sam DiTrolio going 13-for-20. He was 9-for-10 through three quarters, but ran out of steam.

Ryan Nealon tallied a hat trick to lead GV, though two came in the final three minutes after the game was decided. For a team in its first state final, the sour taste will soon be overpowered by the accomplishment of the season.

“We played them as hard as we could, and I’m just so proud of everybody for how hard everyone has played since the beginning of the season and since the La Salle game (in the first round of states),” Sean Gallagher said. “I’m proud of how scrappy it’s been, how much our team has changed, how much energy we’re giving. … I feel like we became the best team we could be, and I’m so proud of us.”

Radnor came the best version of itself, too. And it may not be worth it to compare that to past versions, save to know that this one is superior to all comers in Pennsylvania. Again.

“It’s just amazing,” Savadove said. “You can’t put it into words. It truly is. To be a part of this special group, it’s like no other.”

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