HAVERFORD, PA – Penn Charter’s lacrosse team defeated Haverford School’s lacrosse team.
The final score was 9-7, but when you haven’t beaten a team in 14 seasons and have lost 29 straight since winning twice in 2003, the final score is irrelevant. It could have been 1-0 or 99-98. It could have been played at Haverford School – which it was. It could have been played at Penn Charter. It could have been played overseas. The only thing that mattered was that, at 5:36 on a gorgeous afternoon, April 18, 2017, Penn Charter did the unthinkable.
Even the victorious Quakers admitted to be in a minor state of shock.
“This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” said sophomore Nick DiCicco, who scored three of Penn Charter’s first five goals. “I couldn’t be any happier. This win is definitely a lot sweeter than any other wins we’ve had.
“I don’t think anyone over there on Haverford thought we were going to win. I don’t think anyone in the stands thought we were going to win. I was talking to some my friends and they were like, ‘Ah, good luck winning.’”
Haverford School never figured out a way to consistently solve the conundrum of Penn Charter goalie Carson Marano, who played magnificently. The sophomore netminder made numerous saves from point-blank range, including a key stop with 10:05 left in the fourth quarter.
Marano said nervousness “settles in after you get a couple of saves under your belt” and then “turns into excitement. You want the ball to come back to you.” Beating Haverford School, he said, was “just an amazing feeling.”
“From the start of the first whistle, we came out strong, got an early lead,” said Marano. “We stayed in it the entire game. Never stopped . . . gave it our all (and) hustle from everyone. Gavin (sophomore Gavin Tygh) on faceoffs was unbelievable. Our offensive guys just phenomenal. We were hitting shots. Our defense was lights out.”
Penn Charter’s defense, buoyed by sophomore Sam Keyser, gobbled up most rebounds and ground balls.
“We played disciplined,” said Keyser. “We played as a team. We wanted it more, I think.”
Penn Charter coach Pat McDonough, now in his 16th year, praised his team for a complete effort.
“We haven’t been able to put four quarters together,” said McDonough. “We haven’t really strung together a full game. I thought we started well today and that gave us confidence going forward.
“Haverford is one of the top teams in the country. We knew we had to play a really good game to kind of even make it a game.”
McDonough and his staff considered changing goalies at halftime. Marano and junior Morgan Miller usually split duties.
“We have two really good goalies,” said McDonough. “We’ve been switching back because each of them does something really well. We made the decision at halftime to leave Carson in, hoping some of the saves he made would continue in the second half. He certainly came through and made some really big saves. He was seeing the ball really well. I’m happy for him that he stepped up like that.”
Late in the third quarter, Penn Charter was ahead, 7-4, on the strength of three goals by DiCicco, two by junior Ryan Dickson, and one each by seniors Dylan Schwartz and Luke Stansfield. However, because of Haverford’s penchant for scoring in droves, a three-goal lead didn’t see all that secure. Plus, Haverford School is the defending Inter-Ac champs, had won six of its first eight overall and both of its league games, and was fresh off a huge victory over league juggernaut Malvern Prep. Penn Charter, meanwhile, came in with a record of 4-8 overall and 0-2 in the Inter-Ac.
Sure enough, Haverford senior Johnny Nostrant and junior Luke O’Grady scored 1 minute 43 seconds apart. Suddenly, Penn Charter’s lead had shrunk to 7-6 with 2:11 left in the third. But Dickson shocked the Fords – and visibly deflated them, akin to a stomach sucker punch – when he increased the Quakers’ edge to 8-6 just 35.7 seconds before the fourth quarter. Senior Mac Wilson notched his third assist on the clutch tally.
And then the clock started ticking – way too quickly for Haverford, much too slowly for Penn Charter. With 1:06 remaining in regulation, Haverford sophomore Peter Garno flicked one into the cage to make it 8-7, setting the stage for a nail-biting final 66 seconds.
The Haverford School sideline and crowd was certain the Fords would find a way . . . but not on this day. Instead of the Fords finding the equalizer, the Quakers forced an integral turnover inside the final minute and gained possession. Now desperate, Haverford called a timeout and strategized by leaving its net open in favor of another defender who would hopefully provide a last-ditch steal. It didn’t work. Instead, Schwartz broke through the Haverford defense from behind the cage and clinched the triumph with an open-net goal. Just 25.9 seconds stood between severing 14 years of frustration.
When the final horn sounded, Penn Charter’s players flooded the field in celebration.
“It’s unbelievable,” said senior Alex Malitas, a three-year starting defender and fifth-year member of the program. “The feeling is crazy. It’s great. It comes down to everybody buying in. Everyone played great. We came out with fire. We came out flying around and doing exactly what we needed to do.”
Haverford School coach John Nostrant displayed sportsmanship in defeat.
“Penn Charter played better and wanted it more than we did,” said Nostrant. “They played smart and were efficient in most aspects of the game.”
That so many contributions came from underclassmen points to a Penn Charter program moving in the right direction.
“We got a lot of freshman starters,” said Malitas. “Knowing they can take down a team like Haverford, they know that anything’s possible. The sky’s the limit with them.”
“We’re a young team in a lot of areas,” said McDonough. “Even some of the older guys are inexperienced. Some of the guys are playing their real first varsity minutes.”
What happens for the rest of the season is anyone’s guess. Haverford School is still the Inter-Ac favorite and probably will be for the rest of the season.
But for one game, at least, Haverford School wasn’t the best team in the Inter-Ac.
That title belonged to Penn Charter.
(John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.)
Looking Ahead: The Haverford School's next Inter-Ac match-up will be on Thursday. The Fords will travel to take on Germantown Academy at 3:45pm. Penn Charter will also play on the road on Friday afternoon against Malvern Prep at 4:00pm.