Conestoga tops Garnet Valley to grab second district title in three years
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
WEST CHESTER – The fear of failure can provide more motivation than the pursuit of success.
And so it was for the Conestoga boys’ lacrosse squad on Thursday in the District 1 3A Tournament Championship. A year after falling victim to Central League rival Garnet Valley, the Pioneers reversed the script to capture the 2019 title, edging the Jaguars 7-6 in the finals at West Chester Henderson.
“Our motto all week was not to let it happen again,” acknowledged ’Stoga senior attacker Will Schnorr. “It was a good motivator,” head coach Brody Bush added. “Last season we beat (Garnet Valley) in the regular season and they played great in the district final. We knew it would be a challenge and we were able to put together a better second half than the first.”
The Pioneers now reign over the district for the second time in the last three years and have won a half dozen District 1 crowns dating back to 2009.
“I am super-proud of these boys,” Bush said. “I love coaching this team. They come to work every day to get better, and when that doesn’t happen, they get mad at each other.”
Conestoga improves to 18-3 overall and will take an 11-game win streak, and a No. 1 seed, into the state tournament, which gets underway on Tuesday. The Pioneers will host the sixth-seeded Downingtown East in round one.
“We have a saying on the back of our jerseys that says: ‘work hard, have fun, get it done,’” Bush said. “That’s our motto moving forward.”
Unlike previous title seasons, the current ’Stoga squad is relatively inexperienced and loaded with underclass talent. It’s no coincidence that the game-winner came midway through the final period from Pat Reilly, a freshman with the nickname ‘Pee Wee.’
“My teammates have been calling me that this season,” Reilly blushed. “I guess I’m the smallest guy on the team.”
Reilly took a pass from Schnorr and scored with just over five minutes on the clock to put the Pioneers in front 7-5, and cap off a 3-0 surge that gave second-seeded Conestoga the lead for good. The fourth-seeded Jaguars (17-4 overall) cut the margin in half with a goal at the 2:23 mark, and got possession with a chance to tie it two times in the final 65 seconds of regulation, but never got off a shot.
“I remember being in third grade and watching the 2010 (Conestoga) team win the first of three state championships in a row,” said senior goaltender Mick Lee, who came up with six of his seven saves in the second half. “We have high expectations, so that’s why we work super hard in the offseason. “Getting up at seven in the morning this winter is all for this moment.”
With Lee spearheading the effort, the Pioneers clamped down defensively in the second half, holding Garnet Valley to a single goal. In its last three playoff games, Conestoga has allowed just five second half goals in a total of 60 minutes of action.
“Defense is the strength of our team and when they play well, the rest follow,” Bush said.
“We have a very intelligent group of defensemen who are all veterans, and we just kind of come together at halftime and adjust,” Lee explained. “The same thing happened earlier in the regular season against Garnet Valley. It was 6-6 heading into half and we only let up one goal in the second half and won 9-6.”
Making their third straight appearance in the District 1 final, the Pioneers scored four times in a brief but frenzied two minute, 43 second stretch of the first quarter, with three coming from point-blank range on power inside moves by Brendan Murphy, Julian Grove and Schnorr. When Murphy found Joey Allen on a restart fast-break soon thereafter, it was 4-1.
And with senior faceoff specialist P.J. Hewitt winning the majority in the circle, ’Stoga appeared to be establishing control. But the Jags sliced into the lead with a man-up tally in the final minute of the quarter, and then reeled off three unanswered goals to take a 5-4 advantage at the half.
“Coach Bush told us at halftime to keep moving and we started doing better in ground balls,” Reilly said. “I don’t think we said anything magical at the half,” Bush added. “We talk about technical things, but honestly it comes from the student athletes. They are the ones who dig deep.”
Schnorr led the way offensively with two goals and an assist, and senior midfielder Julian Grove chipped in with a goal and two assists for the Pioneers. Senior Hunter Baar and junior Jake Morin paced Garnet Valley with two goals apiece.
“We don’t have the most experienced team in this tournament, but the seniors did a great job leading this season, and the younger guys know the expectations for the program,” Schnorr pointed out.
And the expectations only heighten for the state tournament. ’Stoga’s won three state crowns and has appeared in the state final on three other occasions since the PIAA began sponsoring the sport in 2009. But it’s been seven years since the last title.