Neshannock returns to PIHL Division 2 final after edging Ringgold

Thursday, March 17, 2022 | 11:29 PM

Neshannock will get a chance to defend its Division 2 title, but it didn’t come easy.

Ringgold scored three unanswered goals to erase a three-goal deficit before Neshannock’s Micah Dejulia scored the eventual game-winning goal late in the third period of a 4-3 victory in the PIHL Division 2 semifinals Thursday at Robert Morris’ Island Sports Center.

Dejulia’s unassisted tally came a minute and a half after Ringgold came up with the game-tying goal. He flipped the puck across the blue line before settling it and firing a wrist shot over the blocker of Ringgold goaltender Gaige DiEugenio.

“It was an odd-ball shot that Gaige would normally stop 99 times out of 100,” Ringgold coach Rick Kalinowski said. “If we would have played the whole game like we did in the third period, it’s a whole different outcome.”

The Rams, who fell short of their fourth straight championship game appearance, trailed 3-1 after two periods before marching back.

They cut their deficit to one less than 30 seconds into the third as Jacob Frahlich deflected a shot from Ethan Saylor that sailed past Neshannock goaltender Riley Mastowski.

Ringgold followed up a nice penalty kill with a power play chance and cashed in with under eight minutes remaining as Nathan Boulanger scooped up the puck with the blade of his stick and tucked it past the left shoulder of Mastowski to tie the game at 3-3.

“These guys want to battle and they want to win,” Kalinowski said. “That’s the instinct you have to have as an athlete, you have to want to keep going.”

Neshannock took control of the game with a pair of late goals in an opening period that featured its share of physicality.

Seconds after DiEugenio kept the game scoreless with a big save on a Kale McConahy breakaway, the Rams were forced to skate shorthanded thanks to a roughing call on Steve Macheska.

Less than 30 seconds into their power play, the Lancers capitalized on a goal by Tommy Malvar that made it 1-0 with 5:15 remaining in the period. Davey Cochenour picked up an assist on the goal.

Just over a minute after the opening tally, Neshannock added more.

Gio Valentine won the race to a loose puck in the Ringgold zone and beat DiEugenio on a breakaway to push the lead to two. Colton Chamberlain was credited with a helper.

It took some time, but Neshannock added to its lead with just over five minutes remaining in the second period.

Dejulia took a pass from Brian McConahy and fired a shot on net before Malvar buried the rebound past DiEugenio for his second goal of the night to make it 3-0 in favor of the Lancers.

“We told the boys to believe in themselves all along and to keep battling,” Neshannock coach Mark Multari said. “Coming off our championship year, no one respected us and we lost a lot of guys. We changed our style a little bit and became more of a defensive team. We just found a way to win games.”

The Rams responded less than a minute later to get on the board as captain Ethan Saylor took a pass from Kenny Cadwallader before skating past the Neshannock defense and burying a shot through the five hole of Mastowski to cut the Lancers’ lead to 3-1. Boulanger also had an assist on the goal.

“We know Ringgold is a great team. They’ve been at the top of the class for several years,” Multari said. “We knew they were coming. We let them back in the game, but the kids stayed resilient.”

Ringgold held a 40-28 shot advantage in the game, including an 18-3 edge in the third period.

DiEugenio finished with 24 saves in the loss, while Mastowski had 37 in the winning effort.

Neshannock, which defeated Ringgold in last year’s championship game, will face Bishop Canevin for the Division 2 title next week at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township.

Ryan Saginaw had a hat trick and Cole Evans scored twice to lift top-seeded Bishop Canevin to a 5-1 victory over Wilmington in the earlier semifinal game.

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