Pine-Richland puts away Latrobe to reach Penguins Cup final

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 | 9:41 PM

Once was enough for Pine-Richland — the Rams weren’t about to let Latrobe come back again.

It happened Feb. 4 when the teams met during the regular season. Pine-Richland lost a 2-1 lead after two periods but eventually won 4-3 in a lengthy shootout.

This time, the Rams scored three times in the third to secure a 5-2 victory in a PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA semifinal Wednesday night at RMU Island Sports Center.

“It was really special to put them away and close out the game this time,” Pine-Richland captain Will Studt said.

Pine-Richland (20-0-1) advances to Monday’s Penguins Cup championship at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex at 8:30 p.m. The Rams seek their first Penguins Cup since they won three in a row (2006, ’07 in AA and ’08 in AAA).

“It’s really nice. Everyone is really supportive of each other, so it’s a huge experience to make it to the final,” Studt said. “It’s the best time ever. I am playing with my best friends and having fun.”

After a scoreless first, the teams combined for three goals in a 3-minute, 26-second span. Pine-Richland’s Charlie Mill broke the shutout 6:15 into the second. Brian Phipps ripped a shot from the near side that Latrobe goaltender Gage Handwork stopped. However, the puck rebounded out to Mill, who was alone near the far slot. He swept the puck into the net for the 1-0 lead.

“It’s very important to get off to a good start, in general, but the first goal is always huge,” Pine-Richland coach Jordan Yoklic said. “In order to have good games, you need a good start to the games, and I think we did that tonight.”

Latrobe (15-5-1) answered 2:25 later when Cole Novak fired in a pass from Alex Walker at the near post.

The Ice Cats’ lead didn’t last long, though. Pine-Richland’s Brandon Kashur converted Studt’s pass at the far post with 7:18 remaining for a 2-1 advantage.

“That was definitely tough,” Latrobe coach Josh Werner said. “Tying it up showed that we can play with them and score goals against them. We were just a shot away from tying them again. It was a good effort. We played well, and I am proud of the guys. I thought we had a really good season.”

Ian Voit pushed the Rams’ lead to 3-1 when he scored off a rebound 2:45 into the third. The Rams added more insurance with 9:52 to play when Richard Wild’s wrister trickled into the goal.

Lane Ruffner gave the Ice Cats some energy when his shot bounced in with 4:27 to play. It trimmed their deficit to 4-2.

However, Studt’s goal with 3:18 to go ended the rally and gave Pine-Richland a 5-2 edge. Dan Stauffer recorded 14 saves to earn the win in goal.

“The credit goes to the players. Defensively, we played a pretty good game. I have a lot of confidence in our forwards that we’ll get the puck in the net,” Yoklic said. “As a collective group, we played well. Danny made some big saves when he had to. The guys were committed tonight, which was exciting to see. They were motivated and excited to play.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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