Defense leads Conestoga past Garnet Valley for District 1 AAA crown
A defense often has to pick its poison, decide how best to allocate defenders to minimize that harm that comes with a drop-off from spots one through four in its lineup.
At Conestoga, the conversation goes a little differently. And with Scott Smith and company, it’s less a matter of trying to hide weaknesses than how to impose its will on an opponent.
In a battle of strengths, Conestoga’s defense got the better of Garnet Valley’s attack Thursday, holding the Jags to just one second-half goal and giving the Pioneers offense time to operate in a 7-6 win in the District 1 Class 3A final at West Chester Henderson.
Conestoga’s win avenges a 5-4 loss last year to Garnet Valley in the final and gives the Pioneers six District 1 titles since the state first sanctioned boys’ lacrosse in 2009. And as it was last year, defense was the key.
“Since the beginning of the season, we knew that we were the foundation of this team, defense has to have good games for us to produce,” Smith said. “The beginning of the season, we kind of struggled with that, and now as a defense, we’ve just come together and we lock teams down now.”
Smith’s main responsibility was Mitch Lachman, who scored a goal and an assist in the first half. Fellow Pioneer junior Mike Prestipino drew the matchup on Jake Morin, who scored twice and added an assist. But as Prestipino’s caused turnover with a minute to play and Conestoga protecting a one-goal lead showed, there was very little relented in those pairings.
“We like our matchups, Michael on Morin and me on Mitch,” Smith said. “We knew that was a good matchup coming in. We’ve been doing that for the past two years now, and we just feel really comfortable. And as a defense, we just try to go out every game and do the same thing, just shut guys down.”
While Garnet Valley (17-4) got results in the first half, that evaporated after halftime. Conestoga actually struck earliest, scoring four goals in 2:43 of the first quarter to take a 4-1 lead.
Garnet Valley roared back with four straight to end the half, shutting Conestoga out in the second quarter. A tally by Hunter Baar off a Morin feed with 1:40 left in the half gave the Jags what proved to be their final lead.
At that point, Garnet Valley was containing Conestoga by isolating Will Schnorr. Along with seven saves from Nick Van Horn in the first half (on the way to 13 for the game), the Jaguars had reason to feel good at the break.
“I think we played very well as a team today,” defender Sam Morin said. “The second and third quarters, we communicated well, slid hard, had very good slides. Nick played phenomenal. We just couldn’t finish.”
That was the last Garnet Valley would score until the 2:23 mark of the fourth. Schnorr tied the game with his second goal at 7:56 of the third. Smith added the go-ahead goal in transition four minutes later, then Schnorr found Patrick Reilly at 5:09 of the fourth to make it 7-5.
Underpinning the Pioneers’ success was PJ Hewitt, who went 11-for-15 at the X.
“That was huge,” Smith said. “When PJ has a game like that, everyone’s up. That’s 11 extra possessions to score, and against an offense like that, that’s huge.”
Baar scored twice for Garnet Valley, and Max Busenkell added two assists. Julian Grove (goal, two assists) had a hand in three goals for Conestoga, while Brendan Murphy had a goal and an assist.
The revenge factor played into the meeting, and it made the celebration sweeter.
“We came into this game with a lot of extra fuel on the fire,” Hewitt said. “We knew that Garnet is a good team. If we let them stick around, they’re going to beat us.
“So we wanted to put them away early, and they fought back in that second quarter after we had a good start to the second. But we came out again after halftime and did our job.”