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Pat Keenan was too excited to contemplate legacies Saturday afternoon. His smile widened only a bit when the performance he and his Malvern Prep teammates put forth was likened to the legendary unit he was part of as a sophomore.
Keeping it simple has worked for the Friars lately, as they’ve put distance between themselves and an uncharacteristic five-game losing streak. That’s what Keenan urged his teammates to do in the Inter-Academic League final at West Chester University.
The result was a dose of revenge exacted over rival Haverford School, the top seed and regular-season champion, with a 9-5 win.
“Everybody’s like, what are we going to do? Just go out and play,” Keenan said. “We’ve been feeling it the last three weeks, and we’ve created an identity of swarming people, not letting them get free hands. And that’s what we did.”
The win caps a resurgent finish for the Friars (16-7). They won their last five games and 13 of 15 since starting 3-5. In the process, they ended a 14-game winning streak for the Fords (17-3).
A Vintage Defensive Effort
Two years ago, the Friars assembled one of the more dominant teams in the program’s deep and storied history, fueled by some talented sophomore defenseman under the tutelage of senior leaders Pup Buono (Penn State) and Jake Brownley (Harvard).
Their young replacements took a year to grow to their full potential, though they still claimed an Inter-Ac title in 2022. But Saturday’s blotting out of Haverford’s attack earned a spot in the Malvern pantheon of defensive dominance.
The Fords had averaged 12.9 goals per game this season, including more than 15 in their last nine outings. But they managed just three in the first three quarters Saturday, with a scoring drought of 22 minutes, 50 seconds that stretched from early in the second quarter to the first minute of the fourth while the Friars snatched away control of the game.
Keenan, a Penn State commit, is one of the vocal leaders. Roman Buono (Yale) drew the top defensive assignment, while junior Brad Piffath (Penn State) and dynamic LSM Lucca DiBartolomeo (Penn State) also kept the Fords muted. (The latter two will eventually join Keenan at Penn State.)
They set the tone early, turning Haverford School over and preventing them from getting into transition in a back-and-forth opening quarter. But once the game settled and the Fords still couldn’t generate offense, the Friars only solidified their dominance in each individual matchup.
“I feel like we knew the first quarter is always hectic, it’s always going to be crazy,” Keenan said. “Once the first quarter ends, we’re going to settle into it. I feel like the biggest thing we said was, don’t let them get into transition. They’re very, very good. They’ve got a lot of guys. … We’ve got to respect those guys.”
A Boost at the X and the Crease
Haverford School stayed in touch as long as it did thanks to Brody Murphy in goal. The Richmond commit made 15 saves, several under heavy pressure at the end of the first half. With the Fords unable to get going offensively, it remained a manageable 6-3 deficit at half thanks in large part to Murphy.
“We were running our zone, and it was set up to give us some outside looks,” Murphy said. “I was seeing the ball pretty good today, and they were giving me good shots to see.”
The other potential weak point was solved by Griff Meyer. An injury to Ben McCarthy in the semifinal meant the Duke commit couldn’t go Saturday. Malvern looked set to capitalize in a big way, with Nick Wehmeyer going 4-for-7 in the first quarter.
But the sophomore Meyer steadied the ship. He finished 12-for-18. And while it didn’t translate into much offense – Haverford was outshot, 37-25 – he kept giving the Fords chances.
“It was a quick adjustment,” Meyer said. “We really only had two real practices, so I feel like every coach and every player on the team just wanted me to go out there, do my best, cancel out the noise. I think that’s what I started to do in the second half. We just couldn’t finish it off.”
In the right zone
Malvern’s offense didn’t have the most electric of days, but the occasion wasn’t a free-flowing, weekday afternoon affair. And when push came to shove, they applied enough pressure to solve Murphy.
With AJ Nikolic getting lots of attention – including the occasional shut-off with a pole – possessions often turned into five-man games. The Cornell commit had two assists, his presence behind the cage facilitating a couple of quick passing sequences that led to goals for weak-side cutters.
Michael Ortlieb (Big 4 HHH) was the poison Haverford’s defense picked, and it didn’t go well for them. He scored four times to go with an assist, including the only two markers of the third quarter to put the game away. With the Fords shading heavily toward Nikolic and having to deal with the physicality of Brown commit Ennis Udo (two goals, assist), Ortlieb found the cracks in the zone, often catch-and-shoot looks on the doorstep.
“All the credit goes to them,” Ortlieb said of his fellow attackmen. “They’re unbelievable players. They’re so well-known because they’re so good. I have the easy part of just playing off them and finding space.”
Ortlieb had work to do in the third when Billy Irish hit him with a bounce pass to bury a shot from a tight angle on the left wing. Udo’s feed 42 seconds later was a dunk as he cut through the slot, as was his deposit of a Nikolic feed from X in the fourth.
Malvern Prep vs. Haverford School Standouts
Lucca DiBartolomeo ’24, LSM, Malvern Prep (Pa.) / Penn State / NLF No. 5 ’24
DiBartolomeo is the kind of player who stands out so much that the other team has to comment on him, the “that guy is good” type. Haverford didn’t have an unharrassed step in midfield all day thanks to DiBartolomeo. His wing play is outstanding, his proficiency on groundballs flawless. He shut down some dangerous blue-chip midfielders from the Fords, and he’s even better in the open field, where Malvern completely negated Haverford’s quick-strike offense.
Brad Piffath ’24 defense, Malvern Prep (Pa.) / Penn State
Take your pick of the poles. Keenan, Buono and the aforementioned DiBartolomeo each not only won their individual matchup but fairly dominated them. Piffath gets the edge because his main matchup was Brady O’Kane, Haverford’s third attackman, who got shut out on the day after scoring a combined four goals in the teams’ regular-season meetings. Like Keenan, Piffath is headed for Penn State. With the extra year to grow, the junior has a high ceiling.
Michael Ortlieb ’25 attack, Malvern Prep / Big 4 HHH / NLF ’25 five-star
The sophomore may be deferential to his elders in attack, but he was the best offensive player on the day. He had a hand in as many goals as Haverford School did. He’s got a diverse game, able to dodge, feed and obviously finish. His soft touch around the cage is impeccable, able to make the right cut, catch in traffic and finish too fast for a defense to recover.
Griff Meyer ’25, faceoff midfield, Haverford School / Team 91 Maryland / NLF ’25 four-star
Meyer absolutely battled, and his 12-for-18 figure is even more impressive considering that Malvern had the superior wing play. It didn’t generate the kind of make-it-take-it sequences Ben McCarthy has all season, and it’s clear the Fords missed the Duke signee. But in a tight spot, the short but extremely powerful Meyer did everything that could’ve been expected of him and more.
Brody Murphy ’24, goalie, Haverford School / Richmond
Teams are starting to learn that you don’t beat Murphy high with mid-range shots. He made a couple of great reaction saves, standing tall especially on Udo, who packs a wallop in his shot. The junior had a tremendous finish to the season, and he absolutely kept Haverford in the game when their offense sputtered.
Malvern Prep 9, Haverford School 5
Malvern Prep 4 2 2 1 – 9
Haverford School 2 1 0 2 – 5
Michael Ortlieb ’25 (Big 4 HHH / NLF five-star ’25) 4 goals, 1 assist
Ennis Udo ’24 (Brown) 2 goals, 1 assist
Billy Irish ’23 (Lafayette) 1 goal, 1 assist
Carson Myers ’23 (Gettysburg) 1 goal
AJ Nikolic ’23 (Cornell) 2 assists
Jake Bickel ’25 1 goal
Chris Rabena ’23 9 saves
Ryan DiRocco ’23 (Army) 1 goal, 1 assist
Brendan Leary ’23 (Penn State) 1 goal, 1 assist
Colin Zeller ’23 (Rutgers) 1 goal
Aydan DiRocco ’24 (Navy) 1 goal
Wells Flinn ’23 (Air Force) 1 goal
Evan Large ’25 1 assist
Griff Meyer ’25 (Team 91 Maryland / NLF four-star ’25) 12-for-18 faceoffs
Brody Murphy ’24 (Richmond) 15 saves