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District 1 Girls Lacrosse: Strath Haven can’t solve Sawicki, Shanahan in ouster

Bishop Shanahan goalie Izzy Sawicki stands tall after repelling a shot by Strath Haven's Kaitlin Nieczpiel, bottom, in the second half of a District 1 Class 2A quarterfinal Tuesday at Neumann University. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY LOCAL NEWS)

ASTON — The District 1 Class 2A girls lacrosse championship each of the last two seasons has come down to a final between Bishop Shanahan and Strath Haven.

Tuesday’s meeting at Neumann University would have different stakes – the winner would advance to the district semifinals and earn one of District 1’s four states berths. The loser would see its season end.

Shanahan goalkeeper Izzy Sawicki hadn’t had a hand in either of the two previous meetings. But the junior transfer from Coatesville stamped her authority on this one, prolonging Strath Haven’s suffering at the hands of their Ches-Mont tormenters.

Strath Haven’s Laura Conner fires a shot in the first half of the District 1 Class 2A quarterfinal against Bishop Shanahan Tuesday at Neumann University. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

Sawicki made eight saves, including three denials of free-position shots in the second half, quite literally making the difference in a 10-7 win for the fifth-seeded Eagles.

It’s the third straight year that Strath Haven’s district campaign has ended at the hands of the two-time reigning district champs. A state finalist in 2021, the No. 4 seed won’t get a chance to return to the PIAA tournament thanks to the quarterfinal loss.

“In the past years, we’ve lost to them in district finals,” Haven midfielder Kaitlin Nieczpiel said. “This year, we were a completely different team, the other team was a completely different team. All we had to do was put our all into it once we saw them.”

Sawicki wasn’t burdened by history in the least. She was a freshman at Coatesville two years ago before playing on JV a season ago, elevated in the postseason to a front-row bench seat to Shanahan’s state semifinal run.

Tuesday, she in the thick of it. She proved difficult to beat with low shots all day, her height and upper-corner coverage baiting shooters to try to go low. She turned aside a free-position shot from Molly Omrod 10 minutes into the second half, though Laura Conner would collect the rebound, draw another whistle and bury to get Strath Haven within 7-6.

Nieczpiel tied the game at seven with 13:05 to play from eight meters. But Sawicki would provide Shanahan the space to regrow the lead.

Annabelle Wiedel and Caitlyn Hubiak tallied after patient possessions to put Shanahan up 9-7. With Shanahan down a player, Sawicki got low to deny a five-hole attempt by Annie Dignazio hole. Then, when she committed a foul on an attempted clear, Sawicki scrambled back to the cage to stand tall and deny Nieczpiel, when Conner drew three defenders and fed her all alone in front of the cage.

“I knew I had to get right back in the cage,” Sawicki said. “I knew that girl was going to try to make a shot. I got there and saw the ball and made the save.”

Shanahan led 5-4 at half. Conner scored twice in the opening half, but the Panthers (15-5) struggled with Shanahan’s swarming, switching defense. It could’ve been 6-4 at the break had a Hubiak goal at the horn not been waved off for a charge. Shanahan also hit iron on four occasions, and Haven goalie Ava Yancey made five of her six saves after the interval.

Strath Haven’s Dylan Cohen scores on a free-position shot in the first half of the District 1 Class 2A quarterfinal against Bishop Shanahan Tuesday at Neumann University. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

“We’ve been down by one at half before,” Nieczpiel said, “and we knew all we had to do was dig deep and try to go back up again.”

The game looked to be going down the usual path when Silvia Baptista scored her second goal two minutes into the second half, then Sam D’Addezio converted a Wiedel feed to give Shanahan (13-6-1) a 7-4 edge with 17:14 to play. The latter goal came after Sawicki had stonewalled Conner from eight meters.

Haven summoned a rally. Nieczpiel, who had a game-high six draw controls, helped the Panthers corral the first four draws of the second half. Dignazio snuck one home on a mazy dodge to the cage before Conner’s third goal made it 7-6.

The Panthers had chances to get back in touch once it went 9-7, but they couldn’t solve Sawicki. Even after Wiedel’s second goal of the game set the final margin with 3:30 to play, Sawicki turned aside shots by Molly Omrod and Conner to snuff out any hope of a late Haven comeback.

It left the Panthers to rehash a familiar script after a tussle with Shanahan, this time after the added knife twist of an early season ending.

“We don’t want to think about the things that have happened in the past,” Nieczpiel said, applying equally to last year as to Tuesday. “We just wanted to keep our faces forward, keep our heads up.”



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