Rad­nor bears down to pull away from Pope John Paul II

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matt Smith matt­smith@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @DTMat­tSmith on Twit­ter

RAD­NOR » With its top mid­fielder out of ac­tion, the Rad­nor boys lacrosse team has chal­lenged it­self with each pass­ing day.

Not one player can fill the void left by Con­nor Pierce, a Divi­sion Ibound of­fen­sive mid­field who hasn’t played since the mid­dle of April due to stress frac­ture in his leg.

“Our coaches have made it an im­por­tant mat­ter,” ju­nior at­tack­man John Austen said. “Con­nor is clearly a great player and not just one per­son can re­place him. We just have a next-man-up men­tal­ity. As the coaches have told us, it starts with ev­ery­one do­ing one lit­tle thing to make us all bet­ter.”

Among the play­ers who have im­proved their over­all games in Delaware com­mit Pierce’s ab­sence are Austen, Drew Brown and Jack­son Birtwistle, who buoyed the Raiders’ im­pres­sive win Thurs­day. Austen had five goals, Birtwistle notched a hat trick and two as­sists, and Brown tal­lied two goals and five as­sists as No. 3 Rad­nor earned a 12-3 de­ci­sion over sixth-seeded Pope John Paul II in a Dis­trict 1 Class 2A quar­ter­fi­nal.

“We just know that ev­ery­one has a job to do,” Birtwistle said. “Los­ing a player like Con­nor … it’s not easy.”

And yet, the Raiders make things look rather sim­ple Thurs­day. To il­lus­trate the dom­i­nance, you’d have to look no fur­ther than Birtwistle’s fancy, be­hind-the-shoul­der goal in the third quar­ter. Birtwistle played it coy when asked how he goes about ex­e­cut­ing such an awe­some shot. “I guess it’s just a feel,” he said. Rad­nor stum­bled in the first quar­ter as Pope John Paull II fre­quently found it­self in Raiders’ ter­ri­tory. A costly turnover en­abled Kyle Dono­van to score the Golden Pan­thers’ third goal late in the open­ing stanza. For a brief mo­ment, the Raiders were rat­tled.

To say Raiders dom­i­nated the rest of the way would be an un­der­state­ment.

They ramped up the at­tack, and their de­fense — led by Ryan Ber­nicker, Kyle Ad­dis, Cole Schwartz and two-way mid­die Ryan Peter — suf­fo­cated the Golden Pan­thers and forced a bevy of turnovers.

“Our de­fend­ers re­ally turned it up at the end, and our goal­keeper Archer (Dar­rach) did great,” Austen said. “I think it all started with our of­fense, though. We had a cou­ple of early turnovers that led to tran­si­tion for them. Ob­vi­ously our de­fense, we trust very well on six-v-six pos­ses­sions rather than on fast breaks. It helped them out big time.”

Af­ter the first 12 min­utes of reg­u­la­tion, scor­ing chances for the visi­tors were sparse, if not to­tally nonex­is­tent.

“I think we just fig­ured out they were a lot of dodg­ing up top … and they had a guy driv­ing. We fig­ured out how to get our slid­ing pack­ages ad­justed to that,” Ber­nicker said. “Once we hud­dled up af­ter the first time­out and talked things over, we re­ally buck­led down and fig­ured out how to slide to their dodgers. From there on, we shut them down.”

The Raiders were able to set up shop and con­trol time of pos­ses­sion in the sec­ond pe­riod. Peter net­ted his only goal of the game on a pass from Birtwistle to even the score at 3-3. Later on, Austen gave the Raiders the lead to stay and Brown found the back of the net 12 sec­onds later to make it 5-3.

Rad­nor would score fi­nal 10 goals.

“In the first quar­ter we had a few turnovers and that’s a re­ally big thing for us,” Birtwistle said. “We got off to a bad start and made a lot of turnovers. We had to get it back a the game’s lit­tle bit … The whole de­fense plays hard and they re­ally got us go­ing.”

Mike McShea’s per­for­mance on face­offs ig­nited the Raiders’ suc­cess on at­tack, win­ning 17 of 18 op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“He was a huge credit for the shut­down,” Ber­nicker said. “Once we started get­ting pos­ses­sion more of­ten, it just changed the game and the next thing you know we are con­vert­ing on of­fense. You’ve got to give it to them, be­cause they were play­ing re­ally hard on the face­off in the first quar­ter. I think Mike buck­led down.”

Rad­nor con­tin­ued to in­crease the pres­sure af­ter half­time. Austen tal­lied three of his five goals in the third quar­ter as the Raiders never looked back.

Eric D’Agostino, Luke Roth and Dono­van scored for the Golden Pan­thers.

The Raiders have a sin­gu­lar fo­cus on their trek to a Dis­trict 1 ti­tle. They hope, at some point, Pierce will be there along for the ride. Ei­ther way, they know they’re ca­pa­ble of do­ing a lot of dam­age.

“Con­nor was our best of­fen­sive mid­die and he was where every­thing was com­ing out of — he got us go­ing,” Ber­nicker said. “Once we fig­ured out our of­fense can play with any de­fense, and we started play­ing with con­fi­dence, then it just changed our whole game.”

PETE BAN­NAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Rad­nor’s John Austen, seen in a reg­u­lar-sea­son game against Spring­field, scored Raiders downed Pope John Paul II, 12-3, in a Dis­trict 1 Class 2A quar­ter­fi­nal. five goals Thurs­day as the

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