UWCHLAN >> Being down in the fourth quarter and needing late push is nothing new for the Downingtown East boys’ lacrosse squad. The Cougars went 3-1 during the regular season in one-goal games.
Good thing, because fifth-seeded East was pushed to the brink in round two of the District 1 3A Playoffs by No. 12 Upper Dublin Thursday. In fact the Cougars needed every ounce of experience to stage a near-miraculous 6-5 comeback victory, and avoid seeing their season come to a premature end.
“That’s a big part of our team, the ability to perform in the clutch,” said East’s goaltender Brady Quinn.
“We just stuck with it and kept playing,” said junior attacker Luke Fiorillo. “We were down 5-3, so it was concerning, but nobody panicked.”
Trailing by two midway through the final period after coming up empty on offense since all the way back in the first quarter, East appeared in big trouble. But somehow the Cougars scored three unanswered goals in the final 8:05.
“If there is one thing about our team it’s that we are not cardiac — we are very steady,” said East head coach Joe Horvath. “When the chips are down or up, we maintain a pretty steady heartbeat.
“We have a great defense and we trust them to get the ball back. And when we are patient on offense, good things happen.”
Coming off knee surgery last July, Fiorillo started the comeback — and ended a 30 minute scoring drought — with a goal after taking a pass from teammate Jake McMahon with just over eight minutes on the clock. And about three minutes later, senior Jake Woodworth tied the score at 5-5.
“Our offense was having a hard time getting to the net, but to be able to do it in the closing minutes with the game on the line is huge,” Quinn said.
Quinn then came up with a critical save at the 2:52 mark, and with about a minute left in regulation, Kolinsky forced a turnover near midfield.
“Bryson was able to force a ground ball, get it and we were able to get the timeout,” Horvath recalled.
The game winner came with 28.6 remaining, and once again it was Fiorillo finding the back of the net off a pass from Kolinsky.
“We try to balance our offense with multiple players, and Luke is a big part of that. He showed up in the fourth quarter for us and I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Horvath said.
“I scored five goals last season (in the playoffs) against Spring-Ford, but to get this one was one of the top experiences for me,” Fiorillo added.
“I’m about 10 months back from surgery and I’m just getting comfortable again being back on the field. Connor Sweeney and Taner Marusa are (injured), so we have a next-man-up mentality. And here I am.”
It was the Cougars’ 11th straight win and the squad is now 17-2 overall. They advance to the district quarterfinals on May 23rd where they will play the Spring-Ford/Garnet Valley winner.
“At this stage of the game, everybody’s good, you can’t take anything for granted, and you have to play hard from the first whistle to the last,” Horvath said.
The Cardinals season ends with a 13-6 mark. And Thursday’s outcome was deeply frustrating when you consider that it was the second time in the last three weeks that Upper Dublin’s dropped a close contest to Downingtown East. And amazingly enough, the regular season final on April 29th was by the same score: 6-5.
“I am going to miss going to practice tomorrow, but we really did some special things this season,” said Cardinals’ head coach Pat Lacon.
“Both were very tough, challenging games,” Horvath added. “Upper Dublin is very well coached, very disciplined, and very tough to beat.
“It gets harder and harder to beat teams the more you play them. (Upper Dublin) also played on Tuesday and made them a bit warmer than us.”
Upper Dublin led most of the way, notching the game’s first tally just 11 seconds in on a goal by Matthew Miller immediately after an opening faceoff win. East countered with three goals in a nine-minute stretch later in the first period, and two of the goals were the result of individual power moves by senior standout Bo Horvath.
The Cardinals, however, dominated the second and third quarters and reeled off four scores in a row: the first two with man-up goals, and the rest on transition goals by senior Caleb Kelly.
“We work a lot on transition, so we always want to play fast. But we don’t want to hurry and we did that a few times,” Lucon said.
“It’s not hard to read this game,” Joe Horvath added. “Two of our problem areas are defending against the clear in transition, and staying out of the penalty box. We play a lot better when we are able to manage those two facets.”
Upper Dublin keeper Nate Fechter was outstanding in the opening three quarters with 10 saves. And the Cards had a pronounced 12-2 edge in faceoffs, primarily handled by Will Hoffman.
“Will does a great job. He is a battler and he’s only a sophomore,” Lucon said.
“All of our defensive players – except our goalie – are either new to lacrosse or new to the varsity level. So when you get into those tighter moments, there are times when we play tighter, and that’s what we did down the stretch.”
When asked to compare the regular season clash to the playoff clash against the Cardinals, Quinn answered: “They were very similar games, but it felt different on the field due to the atmosphere and the implications.
“It was a big game.”
Downingtown East 6, Upper Dublin 5
Upper Dublin 1 3 1 0 — 5
Downingtown East 3 0 0 3 — 6
Upper Dublin goals: Kelly 3, Miller, Guagliardo.
Downingtown East goals: Fiorillo 2, Horvath 2, Shillingford, Woodworth.
Goalie saves: Fechter (UD) 10; Quinn (DE) 6.