ROYERSFORD >> They’re much too good to be called a Cinderella story. But Garnet Valley has created a tradition of exceeding expectations each May.
Last year, the Jaguars fought through playbacks in districts to a berth in the PIAA Class 3A state tournament and made it all the way to the championship game. In 2018, Garnet Valley rode a 15 seed to the program’s only District 1-3A championship.
So not many were too surprised when the Jaguars’ 10-8 record yielded only a No. 13 seed in this year’s district tournament. And they shouldn’t be surprised that on Thursday night, Garnet Valley rode its trademark ball control, excellent midfield play and goaltending to an 8-5 win at No. 4 Spring-Ford in a District 1-3A second-round game.
FINAL: Garnet Valley back to D1-3A quarters, defeating Spring-Ford 8-5. pic.twitter.com/X3MPDt0anr
— Rob (@RJS0519) May 19, 2023
Drew Goldt scored four consecutive goals for the Jaguars in the second and third quarters while goalie Drew Keaveney finished with an eye-popping 17 saves.
To say Keaveney stole the win would be to underplay Garnet Valley’s depth, its quality in the margins of the game (only two penalties, winning 60 percent of the faceoffs) and its timely scoring.
But for the first three quarters, Spring-Ford did have the better of the scoring chances, and it was the junior netminder who was the difference in sending the Jaguars to the final stanza with a 5-4 advantage.
“Our togetherness as a defense helps me a lot,” Keaveney said. “I saw the ball well, it was probably my best game so far (this season.)”
Keaveney offered praise to Spring-Ford’s offense, led by seniors Will Fish (three goals) and Justin Wixted (two goals).
“I’m not going to say I got lucky,” Keaveney clarified. “But there were definitely one-to-two shots where, as a goalie, maybe you have to have luck on your side.”
One thing Garnet Valley doesn’t leave to chance is its approach that sees the team peaking in May annually. Thursday’s result clinches 2023 as the fifth consecutive season that the Jaguars will outperform their seeding in the District 1 tournament.
“One thing Coach (Frank) Urso always says is that playoffs are a whole new season,” Goldt said. “Records really don’t matter, and we tend to play to that.”
“Our schedule is challenging, every season,” Keaveney added. “So while it may not be reflected in our record, I think that’s what prepared us for tonight and the tough games that are going to follow.”
This year’s players are aware of the program’s reputation for building up to the postseason.
“Team development,” Keaveney said. “The coaches have said throughout the season – that (2018) team winning the only district championship in our history? That’s been repeated hundreds of times.”
Colin Smith drew first blood for Garnet Valley four minutes into the game, with Wixted responding in the dying second of the first quarter.
In the second and third frames, Goldt, a Towson commit, regained a one-goal advantage three times for Garnet Valley, with Spring-Ford responding all three times (first Wixted in the second quarter, then Will Fish twice in the third.)
But Goldt’s fourth and final goal of the night came with only five seconds left in the third quarter to put Garnet Valley ahead 5-4, and Kai Lopez’s fourth quarter-opening faceoff win quickly turned into Smith’s second tally. More importantly, it created the Jaguars’ first two-goal lead.
Fish closed out his hat trick to bring the Rams within 6-5 with 10 minutes to play, but Garnet Valley owned the ball for the next six minutes, culminating in Josh Graham finishing a feed from Lopez for a 7-5 advantage.
On the ensuing possession, Garnet Valley’s Ethan Cleaver won a tight race to the end line after an errant Spring-Ford shot, regaining possession for the Jaguars – a possession that ended with Kris Henning’s clinching goal with 1:48 to play.
Colin Song had two assists for Spring-Ford, and goalie Charlie Power stopped seven shots in his final game in a Rams uniform.
Spring-Ford’s outstanding season, which saw the Rams claim signature victories over Springfield-Delco, Downingtown East, and their second consecutive Pioneer Athletic Conference championship, ends at a mark of 16-4 overall.
“They challenge themselves throughout the year,” Spring-Ford coach Kevin Donnelly said. “Their record was not as strong as it usually is, but I never saw them as a 13 seed. They play really hard, their goalie had an outstanding game, and we weren’t able to put up the goals we needed to.”
Donnelly added that the class of 2023 exceeded expectations.
“They’re gamers,” he said. “They’ve been fun to watch, they played smart, showed a lot of savvy offensively and really embraced the things we want to be as a program.”
For Garnet Valley, the season continues at No. 5 Downingtown East on Tuesday at 4 p.m. The winner qualifies for PIAA 3A states, while the loser drops into a do-or-die playback game.
And if that’s how it works out, Garnet Valley won’t be the least bit phased.
“It’s a new season like Coach Urso always says,” Goldt said. “We’re going to continue to feed off that and play our game.”
Garnet Valley 8, Spring-Ford 5
Garnet Valley: Drew Goldt 4 goals; Colin Smith 2 goals; Kris Henning goal, 2 assists; Josh Graham goal; Kai Lopez 2 assists, 8/13 FOs; Drew Keaveney 17 saves.
Spring-Ford: Will Fish 3 goals; Justin Wixted 2 goals; Colin Song 2 assists; Hayden Wedemeyer assist; Charlie Power 7 saves.