Boys Lacrosse: Malvern Prep’s smothering defense produces a championship against Haverford School

WEST GOSHEN — The specifics of the plan were less important than the spirit, Pat Keenan knew.

In the third meeting between Malvern Prep and Haverford School this season, with the Inter-Ac tournament title on the line, Keenan knew the teams could X and O each other to death. Or, the Springfield native and Penn State commit figured, he and his talented group of Malvern defenders could just go out there and let what has been working lately ride.

“I said in the pregame huddle, just go out and play,” said Keenan, through the last shreds of a voice gone beyond hoarse. “We have nothing to lose; we already lost to them twice. Why not go out there and just play and have fun? That’s what we did today, and that’s the outcome we got.”

Haverford School attackman Ryan DiRocco, left, draws a crowd of Malvern Prep defenders Saturday in the Inter-Ac tournament final at West Chester University. (DFM Staff Photo)

The third time proved the charm for Malvern behind a suffocating defense, springing the upset of top-seeded Haverford, 9-5, Saturday at West Chester University’s Farrell Stadium.

The Fords (17-3) entered on a 14-game winning streak. They were averaging 12.9 goals per game this season, including 15.2 over the last nine outings, and had been held to single digits just five times. Yet Malvern (16-7) muzzled them to three goals in three quarters, the Friars getting the season’s last laugh.

Malvern’s defense dominated each individual matchup. With Keenan, Roman Buono and Brad Piffath leading the defense and the destructive force that is long-stick middie Lucca DiBartolomeo, Malvern disrupted a Haverford offense fueled by its egalitarian balance all season.

“For that to happen over the course of 48 minutes, it brings our energy down drastically,” Haverford faceoff man Griff Meyer said. “Our bench was quiet for most of the game. It’s just a game we weren’t used to playing.”

Haverford got no closer than 4-3 early in the second quarter. In the opening frame, they had midfielders step up with goals, Colin Zeller and Wells Flinn burying shots off the dodge. But they didn’t get their first contribution from an attackman until early in the second when Ryan DiRocco slipped a pass to Brendan Leary on the crease. That goal started a drought of 22 minutes and 50 seconds, the Fords not scoring again until 55 seconds into the fourth. By that point, Malvern led 8-3, the game realistically over.

DiRocco and Leary had a goal and an assist each. Aydan DiRocco scored in the fourth, but it was a muted performance from the normally robust Haverford attack.

That was despite Haverford minimizing what could’ve been a big disadvantage. Junior FOGO Ben McCarthy picked up a leg injury in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Springside Chestnut Hill. The Duke commit warmed up but was unable to play, depriving the Fords of one of the best faceoff guys in the nation.

Meyer limited the damage. He went 12-for-18 at the X, shaking a tough first quarter to shift the balance against Malvern’s Nick Wehmeyer. Meyer’s wins may not have been as clean as McCarthy usually produces, but he supplied the Fords plenty of possession.

“He was given a pretty big role to step into today,” Haverford goalie Brody Murphy said, “and I think he did an amazing job.”

Haverford School goalie Brody Murphy gets low to make a save on Malvern Prep during the first half Saturday in the Inter-Ac tournament final at West Chester University. (DFM Staff Photo)

Malvern was determined not to let that turn into easy offense. DiBartolomeo was instrumental in stopping transition chances, and as was short-stick middie Peri DiBartolomeo on the other wing. Without the chance to connect tic-tac-toe passes, Haverford couldn’t get the scoreboard ticking over, couldn’t shift the momentum and – when trailing in the second half – couldn’t get back in touch.

“Every single time I tried to pull it out the front, their left-side wing was always in front of me,” Meyer said. “I always had to roll back. That definitely cut off the usual goals we’re used to with Ryan, Aydan and Brady (O’Kane). I feel like that definitely was a force in the second half.”

The defense gave Malvern’s offense plenty of time to finds its legs. Michael Ortlieb had a goal and an assist in the first quarter. He exploited soft spots in the Haverford zone, with the guile and guts to sneak into greasy areas near the crease. He scored the only two goals of the third quarter, assisted by Billy Irish and Ennis Udo, to make it 8-3, and finished with four goals and a helper.

Udo scored twice. AJ Nikolic, faceguarded most of the game, still was able to dictate possession with two assists. Murphy kept Haverford close as long as he could, with 15 monstrous saves.

But Malvern proved inevitable. The Friars didn’t need to be reminded that their first loss to Haverford capped a five-game losing streak in early April. Even at a program that schedules national powers, that’s years’ worth of losses. If the chance at revenge came in the postseason, Keenan wouldn’t let his guys pass it up.

“This is what we’ve been looking for,” he said. “’Win the last game of the year’ is what we always said, because this game means so much more than all the other games.”

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