Field Hockey: Central League coming down to the wire and Delco Christian has a big-time playmaker

I haven’t had a chance to empty out the recorder of late, so this will encompass three (!) covered games, plus whatever other tidbits pop up. Away we go…

I took in last Thursday’s crucial Conestoga-Strath Haven showdown, and to be honest, it was tough to see how the Panthers managed to stay unbeaten this whole time in the first half. They were completely outplayed by the Pioneers. I’m not sure if it was a question of nerves, being taken aback by Conestoga’s speed, or whatnot, but wow, the Pioneers dominated the first half. If not for the play of goalie Caroline Boyd, Haven might have been looking at a multi-goal deficit.

“At first, we were kind of scared, but then we realized that we could hold them, and we weren’t even playing our best,” midfielder Jessica Borbee said. “What could we do if we could step it up and really play Strath Haven field hockey?”

Turns out the answer to Borbee’s question was to show just how the Panthers keep finding ways to win. With the game seemingly surely ticketed for overtime, Katie Sherry sent a crossing pass in front that Kristen Baschoff fired past Conestoga goalie Chloe Johnson for all the offense Haven ended up needing. It’s not always pretty and if you’re looking for high-scoring games, the Panthers aren’t your team. But they’re the ones heading into Thursday night’s showdown with Haverford.

Baschoff, who’s been one of the Panthers’ most improved players since a year ago, is second on the team in goals with seven behind Rebecca Lucci‘s nine. Six of those goals came in a recent five-game stretch that was capped by the win over the Pioneers, and after she only scored one goal a year ago, it begs the question, “what changed?”

“I only had one goal last season, and this was my seventh, so it’s pretty exciting. They changed my position. Last year, I was center forward, and now I’m a left wing,” Baschoff said. “I think it gives me more scoring opportunities, but I also think I have improved as a player. It’s been really exciting.”

Exciting for both Baschoff and Haven would be knocking off the Fords in Thursday’s marquee showdown. It seems like the Panthers tend to play their best games against the best competition, and that’s not a coincidence.

“We’re definitely a little nervous before every game, but it’s almost a good thing because it makes us ready. We never sit back. We’re ready for hard competition, and we are always 100 percent,” Borbee said. “We get so pumped for the game. It really fuels our fire.”

It should be very interesting to see the explosive Haverford offense try to work through that oh-so-stingy Haven defense. In three games against Garnet Valley, Conestoga and Radnor, the three non-Haverford teams right below them, the Panthers have allowed all of one goal, including shutouts of the best statistical offense in the Central League in the Jaguars and of the Pioneers. Borbee is the headliner, and with good reason. She’s superb. Offense, defense, transition, filling up Gatorade coolers, driving the team bus, whatever. She ranks among the county’s top midfielders, and defender Casey Oehler is a rock on the back end for the Panthers. I’m extremely intrigued by the matchup with the Fords, especially seeing Borbee and Haverford two-time All-Delco Jess McCarthy face off. McCarthy’s numbers during the Fords’ six-game winning streak? Oh, just 10 goals and three assists. No big deal, and fellow midfielder Morgan Druce is heating up, too, with four goals and three assists. If she keeps up her strong play, though, Borbee will be firmly in the mix for All-Delco honors.

ooo

After taking in the Sun Valley-Delco Christian game Monday, it’s hard to imagine that Stacey MacArthur wouldn’t be in the running for All-Delco honors if she had been played all season. Instead, she was hampered by a concussion suffered during summer AAU basketball, an injury that robbed her of the first half of the year. It doesn’t take much to see how much the Knights missed her, either. She’s played four games and is tied for second on the team with six points, thanks to a three-goal, one-assist performance against the Vanguards. Safe to say DC missed her just a little bit.

“It’s really nice. It’s only her third game back, but now I’m starting to see the Stacey that’s in shape and has her stick all warmed up and ready. It was exciting to see that from her,” DC coach Joni Calderwood said. “The second half of that game was really the first glimmer of Stacey as I know her. She finishes.”

But while MacArthur’s been banged up, DC found itself a playmaker in Jackie Barr. Barr leads the team in assists and points with seven and nine, respectively, and there’s a trend with Barr’s assists. Quite simply, the Knights don’t lose when she sets up a goal. DC is 4-0-1 in games where Barr records a helper, which seems to have a direct correlation since they Knights are 1-7-0 when she doesn’t. So, what’s the secret?

“I think it’s just my team helps me set it up. With the defense bringing it up, and somebody crossing me over, that’s what helps me get the assists.”

ooo

I didn’t realize this until I got back to the office after the Springfield-Radnor game, but the Red Raiders still have a shot to get into the District One tournament. They’ll be the biggest Garnet Valley fans in the world this Thursday and they’ll need some help from a committee that’s notoriously harsh to the Central League, but it’s feasible. Radnor has four league losses (Garnet Valley, Ridley, Haverford, Strath Haven) and Conestoga has three (Radnor, Haverford, Strath Haven), and if the Jaguars can knock off the Pioneers, it would slide the Red Raiders into the No. 4 spot by virtue of the head-to-head win. Radnor would then need the D-1 committee to accept that the Central League is much improved over last year and is worthy of a fourth spot. Both are roughly 50-50 shots.

Regardless of what happens, though, first-year starting goalie Emily Snowden, who should teach a class on how to speak to reporters and can fill up recorders and notebooks with the best of ’em, likes the progress that she’s seen from the Red Raiders, and she particularly enjoyed a team effort leading to a shutout of the Cougars on Senior Night.

“It’s nice. It’s really a great feeling. A shutout is honestly a dream come true. We’re there at halftime. We had the (lead) and we had no goals on us. It’s a great feeling,” said the Vermont commit. “Our team really has come together. It feels different to me (than 2011). Last year, we had a great team, a strong team, clearly a team that succeeded and got to postseason. Whether or not we have a postseason this year, our team has really…we’re flowing. We hit bumps and turns as a team on the field. I can feel it and I know everyone else can feel it when we hit those bumps and turns, but to get this win is great, and we’ve been putting up a fight for all of our games recently. Every little thing on the field is a little victory. Whether it comes out on the scoreboard or not, I know the individual success has been tremendous for our team. It’s sad that Syd(ney Cowles) and I are seniors and we won’t see next year, but I know next year they’re going to come out swinging and they’re going to come out so strong.”

Snowden also pointed to the win over Conestoga as a milestone moment for the Red Raiders, and she hopes that the younger players can use it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

“It’s a big deal. Last year, we weren’t supposed to win against Souderton and we won. Some of the younger girls were there for that, but that was our victory for our team. In my mind I’ll always remember that game. I wasn’t on the field, and I’ll always remember it,” Snowden said. “For us, Conestoga was huge, and for the younger girls, it’s going to give them an inspiration of just how far they can go. Every win that we have here, especially the ones where we’re not expected (to win), will show the younger girls. Next year, it’s really going to be about them, and seeing what we did this year, and building off of it, and shooting for higher and stronger.”

Garnet Valley and Conestoga, Haverford and Strath Haven. Yep, Thursday’s shaping up to be a dandy. Maybe there will even be clarity as to who ranks where, but let’s not bank on it.

Look for more notes in the Field Hockey Notebook that comes out tomorrow, and I’ll probably have another blog post either late tonight or tomorrow.

– MATT CHAND

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