Knoch boys lacrosse in search of 3rd straight playoff appearance

Thursday, April 18, 2019 | 6:26 PM

Knoch’s prospects appeared dim in the second half of its Section 1-AA boys lacrosse matchup with Freeport. A six-goal deficit makes rallies difficult under normal circumstances, but the Knights also faced a dwindling clock — and they weren’t exactly playing well, either.

A back-to-basics approach changed that, and with it came an exhilarating victory as Knoch scored seven unanswered goals, capped by a Jim Johnston overtime tally, to stun its Butler County rival.

It’s the type of victory Knoch (4-3, 3-0) hopes to ride as it seeks a third consecutive WPIAL playoff berth and make a postseason run.

“It definitely boosts our confidence,” senior Chase Mullen said. “We know we can do it now and know we have it in us, especially for those close games or games where we need to make a big comeback in the second half. It shows us who we are and what we can do.”

Knoch is finding out its identity after losing several key players to graduation after last season, including Ivan Stapchuck, one of the team’s leading scorers in 2018; faceoff specialist Josh Goodlin; and Andrew Mullen, a strong defensive pole player.

“The expectations were — I’m not going to lie — a little lower,” senior Matt Goodlin said. “All around the board we lost some good players, so we had some players that needed to step up. We also got some new teammates.”

Coupled with the graduation losses, Knoch needed to account for some inexperience in a few of its players. The Knights don’t have a specific feeder program, and while many of their players gained valuable experience while playing for Freeport’s youth program, they also have some who are pretty new to the sport.

“Experience is huge in lacrosse because you can’t simulate it,” Goodlin said. “It’s not something where people picked it up overnight. If you’re going to start with such short notice, you need to play wall ball, get max shooting reps when you’re out, go out in the yard and do whatever you can do, stay after practice.”

The Knights have experience on the back line with seniors Jarrett Bricker, Emmett Fry and Tanner Grassi and goalie Nick Fleishner, plus attackers like Chase Mullen — a Marietta recruit who picked up the game in fifth grade.

“We have a great senior core,” coach Nathan Barthlow said. “With the exception of one, they’ve all played for three or four years plus. We definitely have a good core group right now, but we have a lot of younger guys stepping up. Just about every freshman we have has played before, which is awesome for the program.

“You can definitely see the growth.”

Barthlow said the defense continues to improve, as does the team communication.

Goodlin said an exhibition loss to Norwin helped Knoch begin the season. The Knights beat South Fayette out of section and have section wins over Plum, Indiana and Freeport — the last two in overtime. Their losses came out of section against Class AAA Butler, and Section 2-AA teams Moon and Quaker Valley.

One strength the Knights possess is balanced scoring: Goodlin, Johnston and Cam Ruk scored two goals each against Freeport, with Mullen and Nato Webb putting in one each. Mullen has games of eight and six goals this season.

After back-to-back WPIAL quarterfinal appearances, Knoch would like to make at least a similar run this season. Mullen emphasized the importance of hard work to get there.

“We definitely can see ourselves in the future in the playoffs, but it doesn’t come easy,” he said. “We have to just bring it back to who we are and what we can accomplish.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .


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