By Neil Geoghegan
@NeilMGeoghegan on Twitter
UWCHLAN >> The masters of the one-goal boys’ lacrosse victory were at it again on Wednesday afternoon — but this time was just a little too close for comfort.
Thanks to a dominating start, Downingtown East had a big lead through three quarters in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A Playoffs, but came perilously close to succumbing to a furious late rally by visiting Hempfield. The Cougars, however, found a way to hold on, 10-9, for the program’s sixth one goal win in 2023.
“We certainly don’t look for (one-goal games), especially like this one today where we were up big and doing well,” said East head coach Joe Horvath. “We kind of got distracted and took our foot off the gas.
“But at the end of the day, a win is a win. If it happens to be tight, you can learn valuable lessons from it.”
Now 20-3 overall, the Cougars advance to the state quarterfinals, where they will try to knock off unbeaten Manheim Township, the District 3 champs. It will take place Saturday at a time and site to be announced.
“It’s exciting because last season we went out in the first round (of the PIAA’s),” said senior attacker Bryson Kolinsky.
“We are just trying to enjoy all of our moments together as a team – there is not much left,” added senior defender Sam Barton. “Even if we go to the state championship game, it’s only three games at the most.”
The third-seed from District 1, Downingtown East has now won 14 of its last 15, and an elite eight berth is the furthest the program has advanced in the postseason since winning the state crown in 2007.
“The finish was a little disheartening, but deep down I didn’t think we were going to lose this game at all,” said Barton, who came up with a consequential defensive play in the final minute.
Seemingly cruising 7-2 at the half, the Cougars were outscored 7-3 the rest of the way. The comeback included three quick tallies by the Black Knights in a frenzied 61-second span down the stretch, all spurred on by faceoff wins from junior Seamus Mack. It sliced the margin to 10-9 with 3:17 on the clock.
The third-seed from District 3, Hempfield (17-6 overall) had two more possessions, but East defender Owen Lammy thwarted one with a diving play with just inside two minutes remaining. And then Barton forced a turnover with 23.1 seconds left in a battle near the Cougars’ cage with the Knights’ Stephen Pitts. It was a clash of the biggest players on each side.
“I knew if we stopped transition, and it got to six-on-six — like that last possession — we were going to stop (Hempfield),” Barton said.
“I was just trying not to lose the leverage game. I got on his hip, got under his elbow and rolled him up. He kind of fell down and I just took it from him.”
If it wasn’t for a terrific first quarter, East could have been in some serious trouble. With Kolinsky leading the way, the Cougars scored the game’s first four goals in the opening 9:56, and led 6-1 heading into the second period. And five of East’s first eight goals came in transition.
“We were pretty good in transition today,” Horvath said. “Our clears were pretty good and we were passing well with speed. We need to keep that up. It’s not a hallmark of our team, but it is starting to pay off.”
The Cougars’ offensive productivity slowed in the second, and then dried up entirely in the third quarter. And when Hempfield’s Jason Hilton registered his third goal of the day early in the final quarter, it was 7-4.
“We definitely slowed down a bit offensively, but we did have some looks,” Barton said.
East’s Jake Woodworth halted a 22-minute-plus scoring drought off a feed from Mike Waite, and then fellow senior T.J. Shillingford’s goal with 6:21 made it 9-4. But the Knights kept up the pressure by winning faceoffs, and converting.
In all, Hempfield poured in five goals in a three and a half minute stretch, and the only reprieve was a goal by Kolinsky with 4:22 on the clock that wound up being the game-winner.
“I’m not sure we had the killer instinct in the second half like we did in the first quarter,” Horvath pointed out. “We looked fatigued out there. The air quality is not good, but we can’t use that as an excuse because it was that way for both teams. It was just a mental lapse.”
Barton, however, pointed out that the Cougars’ depth may have contributed to the late near-collapse.
“We were a little fatigued,” he acknowledged. “The smoke in the air affects your lungs, and it is hot out – and we don’t have a lot of depth. We only play 13-14 guys.”
Woodworth led the way with three goals, Shillingford added two and Kolinsky finished with two goals and four assists for East. Hilton led all scorers with five goals for the Knights.
“These one goal games mean a lot to us,” Barton said. “I didn’t think this one was going to be that close, but (Hempfield) really fought and played well at the end.
“But we are definitely battle tested. Last season we weren’t in as many close games, and when it got close we just kind of gave up on each other. This year we’ve been through those one-goal games and I think it’s helped us.”
Downingtown East 10, Hempfield 9
Hempfield 1 1 1 6 — 9
Downingtown East 6 1 0 3 — 10
Hempfield goals: Hilton 5, Morales 2, Mack, Marco.
Downingtown East goals: Woodworth 3, Kolinsky 2, Shillingford 2, Waite, Warnock, Horvath,
Goalie saves: Colon-Munoz (H) 7; Quinn (DE) 12.