by Tom Utescher
For the boys of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, lacrosse season ended a little sooner than expected.
Opening the Inter-Ac Challenge postseason tournament on their home field on Monday, May 11, the seventh-seeded Blue Devils trailed number 10 Academy of the New Church by three goals at the end of the third quarter. SCH supporters felt the earth had been set back on its axis when their team pulled even at 8-8 in the middle of the fourth round, but the visiting Lions struck one more time with just over two minutes to go, capturing a 9-8 victory.
Seeded three slots below Springside Chestnut Hill for the Challenge as they were in 2014, the boys from Bryn Athyn don’t play nearly as tough a schedule as the Blue Devils, but the Lions have been making strikes under a recently revamped coaching staff and they left Chestnut Hill last week with a 13-2 overall record. In the 2014 tourney, SCH had eliminated ANC by a 12-6 score in the opening round before falling to eventual runner-up Haverford School.
This year, it was the Blue Devils who had to stow away their sticks for the season after the first-round match. They finished with a final overall mark of 10-11 and were 2-8 within the Inter-Ac League, where they tied for fourth place with Germantown Academy and Penn Charter. The Patriots and Quakers faced one another in an opening-round bout in the Challenge, where a hat trick from junior Cody Sweeney propelled PC (#8) past GA (#9), 5-4. The Quakers would go on to lose to top-seeded Haverford on Wednesday, 10-3.
In Chestnut Hill, the Blue Devils never trailed New Church during the first half, but they allowed ANC to match each of their four goals in those two quarters.
The Lions won the opening face-off, but didn’t get off a shot in their first trip into the SCH zone. After a cross-checking penalty on the visitors with 7:13 left in the first stanza, SCH sophomore Brendan Clark scored on a rising underhand shot at 6:32. With a shot just below the crossbar, New Church junior James Vandegrift leveled the count just over a minute later.
Both Vandegrift and his freshman brother, Kevin, have already made verbal commitments to play for St. Joseph’s University.
In the last two minutes of the first frame, another strike by the Blue Devils’ Clark (assisted by senior Nick Lawlor) was once again matched by James Vandegrift. After calling time-out with 26 seconds left, ANC was able to get off two shots; one missed and the other was stopped by SCH senior goalie Matt Eckles (nine saves).
Another SCH 12th-grader, Michael Bown, moved the hosts ahead with 9:21 remaining in the first half, and at 7:06 things were even again as James Vandegrift completed a hat trick. Two freshmen had the final word on the scoreboard over the last four minutes. The Blue Devils took the lead for a fourth time thanks to C.J. Sweitzer, and the younger Vandegrift brother responded for the Lions.
SCH called a time-out near the end of the quarter, but could not regain the lead in the last 41 seconds before the break, when the tally was 4-4.
ANC attacked at the start of the third quarter. An entry pass wasn’t caught cleanly and the ball dropped to the ground, but Lions freshman Dave Closterman flicked it into the cage with a little over two minutes in.
The hosts were able to keep a lid on James Vandegrift in the second half. Following Closterman’s goal, the ANC junior had one shot blocked by SCH senior Jack Prochniak, and another turned aside by Eckles. However, in between those two attempts, visiting senior Jesse Frazier found the back of the Blue Devils’ net to give New Church a 6-4 lead.
While the visitors were down a man midway through the quarter, ANC junior goalie Thomas Villante (16 saves) stopped a shot by SCH sophomore Malcolm Glendinning. Back at even strength, the Lions went up 7-4 on a marker by the younger Vandegrift with 4:34 remaining in round three.
SCH senior Chris Caldwell (a Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduate) assisted Clark as the sophomore recouped a point at 3:53 and completed a personal hat trick. About a minute later, though, New Church was back up by three as Kevin Vendegrift rounded out a hat trick of his own, converting off a feed from his ninth-grade classmate, Closterman.
In the last minute, Villante preserved his team’s 8-5 advantage by stopping a strong, high shot from the top of the offensive set by one of the Blue Devils’ talented freshmen, Mac McLaughlin.
Down three points for the start of the final frame, the Blue Devils needed a quick goal, and with just 18 seconds elapsed they got one, courtesy of Caldwell.
Just as ANC was regrouping after a penalty expired, a promising SCH shot by Bown was saved by Villante. An offsides call was made against the Blue Devils with 8:17 remaining in the game, but ANC couldn’t capitalize as Eckles turned aside a shot from up top by Kevin Vandegrift.
With both sides back at full strength, the Blue Devils erased their deficit with quick consecutive strikes with 6:39 and 6:31 remaining. For the first, Bown passed the ball from behind the goal out front on the left side, and Caldwell converted with a long bounce shot. Sophomore Parker Popky controlled the face-off and got the ball to Bown, who dished over to Clark on the left wing. Clark’s outside shot resulted in his fourth goal of the afternoon, and it tied the match at 8-8.
The Devils wouldn’t be able to retake the lead, though, and after the equalizer neither side was heard from for four minutes. With 2:11 on the board, ANC sophomore Kam Kittrels fired the eventual gamewinner from near the top of the offensive zone, a little right of center.
The next face-off found the ball in the stick of SCH’s Glendinning, but when fellow 10th-grader Jack Lamb tried for the tie, his shot couldn’t get past Villante. Next, the Blue Devils handicapped themselves with a penalty at 1:14, which left them shorthanded for most of the time remaining in the contest.
ANC lost possession of the ball with just over 40 seconds to play, and the home team called time-out with 28 ticks left. Just as SCH got its man out of the box and was readjusting, they lost the ball on a check by an ANC defenseman. This play produced another penalty on the hosts with 10 seconds remaining, but the ultimate penalty for the Blue Devils was that their season was soon over.