BUCKTOWN >> In a season where the goals have come easily, the Owen J. Roberts girls lacrosse team kissed that notion goodbye the moment the bus from Conestoga pulled into Bucktown Thursday.
There was even more clarity in the second half with a 3-3 score and the Wildcats unable to break down the Pioneers’ defense as the time ticked on a sustained six-minute possession that increasingly felt like a game-swinging moment in their District 1-3A semifinal.
“Definitely,” senior midfielder Gabbi Koury said when asked if the sequence was the hardest OJR had to work for a goal all season. “It was good for us to see that we can possess the ball for that long, as long as we’re scoring a goal at the end of the possession.”
The Wildcats didn’t forget the most important part.
Koury finally connected with Alexa Vogelman for the lead-taking score with 15:04 to play and Owen J. Roberts swung the game by rattling off the next four goals on the way to a 7-4 victory over reigning district and PIAA champion Conestoga.
Koury to Vogelman finally breaks down very long defensive stand by Conestoga and puts Owen J Roberts up 4-3, 15:04 2H pic.twitter.com/fVii6yfEHZ
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) May 25, 2023
Owen J. Roberts becomes only the fifth non-Central League team to play in the District 1 championship in the top classification of the PIAA tournament era (3A 2017-23, single class 2009-16) and is the only program to do it twice, previously reaching the final in 2016.
OJR (22-1) will meet Penncrest, an upset winner over top-seeded Springfield-Delco 13-12 Thursday, in the championship on Wednesday, May 31, at a site and time to be determined.
Conestoga heads to the third-place game against Springfield-Delco on Tuesday for state-tournament seeding. The Pioneers secured their place in states by reaching the semifinals.
The Wildcats’ senior leaders were at it again: Alexa Vogelman (assist) and Colby Wasson had three goals apiece and primary playmaker Koury had a goal and four assists. Defensively, Cailin Harrington was a one-girl clearing machine, and Rachel Sbei, Ashly White and Koury had two caused turnovers each.
For Conestoga, Keating Hopkins scored twice and Central League Player of the Year Kate Galica had a goal and five draw controls. Ellie Wisch’s consolation goal in the final minute rounded out Stoga’s scoring.
OJR has been light years ahead of the competition since its lone loss, 8-6 to defending PIAA 2A champion Archbishop Carroll on April 11. The average margin of victory was 16 goals in the 13 consecutive wins entering Thursday.
OJR relished the test from the highly-decorated Pioneers’ program that has won three district titles (2017, 2019, 2022) and two PIAA titles (2016, 2022).
“We’ve been ready for a really solid game. We saw them earlier in the season (OJR 9-4 on March 25) and that game was just as tough as it was tonight,” said Vogelman. “But we knew that coming in and that’s the type of challenge that we like. We’re a team that loves to compete and these are the games we love playing.”
“It makes it worthwhile having a challenge like that,” said senior Colby Wasson. “Going all the way through and beating teams by 10 isn’t what we’re looking for. We want the challenge.”
The decisive stretch came in a five-minute period ignited by Koury and Vogelman’s first collaboration. Another followed three minutes later as Koury (one goal, four assists), positioned on the backside, found Vogelman on the doorstep for lacrosse’s spin on an alley oop. After one of OJR goalie Korrigan Sweeney’s best saves of the night (8 saves), Koury set up Wasson for another goal and suddenly OJR led 6-3 with 10:04 to play.
The shortcomings of the past – OJR lost in the district quarterfinals to lower-seeded opponents in 2021 and 2022 – are informing its present intensity
“In districts we have been doing a good job coming out and never underestimating the opponent,” Wasson said. “Part of that is last year we underestimated people and then we got beat. I think we learned our lesson.”
“With a very senior and junior-heavy starting lineup, a lot of us have experienced that loss,” Vogelman said. “A couple years ago we were never even playing in a semifinal; we used to lose in the quarterfinals. So to get over that hump that we had, it gave us that motivation we needed.
“We’re here now and we are so determined to get it because we’re so close. It’s an arm’s reach away. We know what it feels like to lose and we don’t want to have that feeling again.”
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