Defending PIAA Class AAA champion Radnor and perennial powerhouse La Salle didn’t waste any time in providing themselves an early-season barometer.
While some teams will work their way into the meat of their schedule, the Raptors and Explorers, considered by many to be the two best teams in the PIAA this year, decided for a heavyweight fight in the first game of the season.
Down by a goal at the half, the Explorers only ceded one second-half goal and sophomore faceoff midfielder Stevie Davis owned the stripe, winning the game’s last 13 duels to help La Salle knock off Radnor, 9-5. It was the perfect environment for a battle of two elite teams, both ranked in the NLF’s preseason top 25, and there’s a level of understanding between both teams and the Philadelphia lacrosse community that a rematch in June looms.
“It’s awesome and it’s a huge step for us,” La Salle senior attackman and Big 4 HHH ’22 Andrew Kelly, a Lehigh signee, said. “We didn’t have our best practices this week but coming out, knocking this team and punching them in the face, is a great feeling.”
La Salle’s Lucky 13
One of the reasons why it’s almost universally accepted that there will be a rematch is the talent on both sides. Friday night, though, it was the talent at one position that overwhelmingly tipped the scales to La Salle. Davis, a relative newcomer to the position, has been one of the fastest-rising players in the 2024 class in the past year.
He lost three of the first four faceoffs to Radnor senior Mason Brown, but the one win? The speedy Davis exploded out of his stance and snapped a high bouncer to give the La Salle its first lead of the game, and 23 seconds later, Kelly tallied his first of two markers on the game. Davis actually lost the faceoff on that one when he jumped early. It was the last time he lost a faceoff.
“(The goal) was awesome,” Davis said. “It gave us a ton of momentum. I think we scored two off of that. We were juiced on the sideline and it gave us the momentum.”
Explorers’ Defense Stands Tall
Thirteen wins later, he’d shifted all of the momentum back to the Explorers and gave them the ball so much that Radnor couldn’t enjoy any kind of sustained offensive momentum. The La Salle defense, spearheaded by defensive mastermind Tony Resch, gave the Raptors nothing to work with in the second half. Only sophomore Nate Lucchesi was able to solve La Salle on the man-up, taking a nifty feed from Cornell-bound senior Ryan Goldstein and ripping it home.
Other than that? Nada. Part of the credit goes to the defense, but it also helps when you can play make it, take it. Even for a faceoff man of Davis’ caliber, not losing one in a baker’s dozen faceoffs is unheard of. Davis’ hand speed and athleticism are a cut above most. Also a running back and kick returner for La Salle’s excellent football team, his first step out of his stance on faceoffs is a nightmare to defend. He also showed good awareness and poise with the ball in his stick in traffic.
“I’ve maybe had some with one or two losses in between, but that’s probably my longest streak,” Davis said. “(After the slow start), I just kept my head in the game and thought, ‘next one. I’ll get the next one.'”
Oppenheimer Tees Off
He did just that. Despite Davis’ lights-out 14-for-17 day, the Explorers still needed to get the ball in the back of the net, a feat that seemed downright impossible for a long stretch. Radnor goalie Nate Brown played out of his mind for the Raptors, coming up with 13 saves, including a bevy of highlight-reel stops.
La Salle, though, kept pushing, and it paid off. After Charlie Huntley (Vermont) brought the Explorers even, senior sniper PJ Oppenheimer (Marist) got to work. The enormous righty smashed home a shot from the wing off of a Jack Pilling (Big 4 HHH / Richmond) setup. Less than a minute later, he essentially blasted a shot through Brown. Oppenheimer snagged a pass from Huntley, and his shot went off of Brown’s chest and bounced back into the net.
State Champs Will Be Back for More
Radnor’s defense did yeoman’s work all game long. Led by Notre Dame commit and NLF No. 52 ’22 Will Gallagher (Big 4 HHH) and North Carolina football commit CJ Murphy, among others, the Raptors have the personnel to clamp down on most of the offenses they’ll see this year. When they’re pressed into duty all the time for a half, though, it gets hard to continually come up with stops.
“It was a lot of defense,” Gallagher admitted. “I think we’re pretty good defensively. They’ve got a great faceoff guy, and it does wear you down a little, but we’ve still got to get off the field and get the ball back to our offense.”
Radnor will have time to re-evaluate where it went wrong, especially as the Raptors already have their sights set on a rematch.
“They’re a very good team. They’ve got a lot of good guys and good coaching and they’re just tough,” Gallagher said. “Losing to them early is kind of motivating. It makes you want to work harder in practice and hopefully see them again.”
Radnor – La Salle Standouts
Nate Brown ’22, goalie, Radnor
Radnor’s an excellent team, but with Stevie Davis’ performance, the score would have been more lopsided if not for Brown’s play. The lefty was phenomenal, particularly on low shots. It got to a point where La Salle’s bench was openly asking things like, “who is this kid? and, “how did he stop that?”. Brown had one sequence where he made a gem of an off-stick save and immediately followed it up by popping back up and denying PJ Oppenheimer’s rebound on the doorstep.
It was Brown’s first game as a starter since last year’s opener against La Salle, when the Raptors were missing usual starter Robert Hobbs. This year, he goes in as Radnor’s top dog in the cage and he played like it.
“We prepare well in practice. We have good guys that we get to go against, so my mindset going in is that everyone that we see is going to be just as good as the guys that we face in practice,” Brown said, “so I didn’t get super nervous about that. I just tried to be focused and dialed in and get ready.”
Will Gallagher ’22, defense, Radnor / Big 4 HHH / Notre Dame – NLF No. 52 ’22
Grant Pierce, last year’s leader of a defensive unit that only yielded 99 goals in 25 games and a guy who played in the Nike National Senior All-Star Game, is now in Chapel Hill as a freshman defenseman for North Carolina. Gallagher gets to fill those shoes, and if Friday was any indicator, the Raptors will be really hard to score against yet again.
Gallagher doesn’t bother with throwing a ton of checks. He’s so effective as a cover man that he doesn’t have to bother with the checks too much. Gallagher has an ACC frame for a defenseman and he can guard a bevy of different types of scorers. La Salle quickly figured out that this wasn’t the matchup to test. The future Irish defenseman also did an admirable job of communicating with his teammates and putting them in the right spot.
Different Defense, Still Awesome
“It’s definitely a different group than last year,” Gallagher explained. “Last year, we were more experienced, but this year, I think we’re just as good, honestly, and I think we can just keep getting better every week.”
He’s got a point. Senior North Carolina football linebacker commit CJ Murphy is an intimidating presence with how big and physical he plays. Sophomore Michael Savadove was also impressive and came away with a couple of caused turnovers, including a textbook fourth-quarter strip on the wing. Junior Pablo Strid, a lefty, is one of Philly’s best uncommitted ’23s regardless of position. It’s a quality group that will help Radnor challenge for a Central League and state title.
PJ Oppenheimer ’22, attack, La Salle / Marist
The future Red Fox is hard to miss on the field. He’s around 6-5 and maybe 240 pounds, looking more like a future defensive lineman than attackman. Despite that, he showed some soft hands and an absolute laser of a shot. When he shoots, Oppenheimer gets his entire body into it, and the ball explodes out of his stick. La Salle did a great job of getting him open looks on the wing and he obliged with a hat trick, including two goals 58 seconds apart that gave the Explorers the lead for good.
Oppenheimer opened the scoring with a five-hole bouncer and his final two tallies were up high, showing that he can change planes on his shot. He’s likely never going to be a major dodging threat, but there’s always a place for goal scorers, and he does that well.
Will Pickering ’22, defense, La Salle / Bucknell
Pick a defenseman for La Salle and they could have earned a spot on here, but Pickering stood out for his ability to harass Radnor’s offensive players all over the field. He covered well up top, on the wing and at GLE. The future Bison had an early caused turnover off of a great slide, showed off a smooth stick and athleticism, and later dislodged another turnover.
He was the headliner for a fast, aggressive La Salle defense, one that is a big reason why the Explorers have such lofty expectations.
“We prepared all week last week. We knew they were going to be a tough opponent. They have a lot of guys that can score. We came out here knowing who their top guys were and we fought them tooth and nail,” Pickering said. “I think Coach Resch really prepared us.”
“We knew they were going to be one of, if not the top, opponent for the state championship this year,” Pickering continued. “It was great knowing that we were coming up against a team that will likely be in our way.”
La Salle 9, Radnor 5
Radnor 1 3 0 1 — 5
La Salle 3 0 3 3 — 9
Ryan Goldstein ’22 (Cornell) 1 goal, 2 assists
Mason Montrella ’23 1 goal, 1 assist
Nate Lucchesi ’24 1 goal, 1 assist
Colin French ’23 1 goal
Nick Lucchesi ’22 (Air Force) 1 goal
Cooper Mueller ’23 1 assist
Mason Brown ’22 2-for-12 faceoffs
Carter Mountain ’24 1-for-5 faceoffs
Nate Brown ’22 13 saves
La Salle (1-0)
PJ Oppenheimer ’22 (Marist) 3 goals
Andrew Kelly ’22 (Big 4 HHH / Lehigh) 2 goals
Jack Vandegrift ’23 2 goals
Charlie Huntley ’22 (Vermont) 1 goal, 1 assist
Jack Pilling ’22 (Big 4 HHH / Richmond) 1 assist
Paul van Bastelaar ’24 (Big 4 HHH) 2 assists
Stevie Davis ’24 1 goal, 14-for-17 faceoffs