GA senior Kelli Stack (left), who scored a game-high five goals last Thursday, is pursued by GFS junior Sophie Mercuris. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

This spring, not every girls lacrosse game that was expected to be a battle royal has lived up to its advance billing, but last Thursday’s stick spectacle at Germantown Friends kept the rapt attention of spectators right up until the final horn.

The host Tigers and the visiting Patriots of Germantown Academy were tied eight times, including a 4-4 halftime draw. In the final seconds, GFS had several opportunities to level the score a ninth time, but GA hung on for a 13-12 victory, handing the Tigers their first loss of the 2012 campaign.

After the teams went neck-and-neck through the first half, there was a little burst of offense for each side. Initially falling behind in the second period, the Tigers strung three goals together to go up 9-8, and later the Patriots deposited four-in-a-row for a 13-10 advantage. Germantown Friends struck twice in the final 97 seconds to cap off the barnburner.

Within the Friends Schools League GFS remained 6-0 following the non-league tilt, and owned an overall record of 16-1. The Tigers are the top seed for the FSL tournament, and will tackle number four Moorestown Friends in the semifinals this week. GA, which has amped up its level of play over the last month, improved to 14-5 overall. The Pats stayed put at 6-3 in the Inter-Ac, with three games still on the docket.

Iris Williamson of GFS and Brooke Kiley of GA are the all-time leading scorers at their respective schools, and they will play together in college at the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout the season, both teams have featured balanced attacks and have not had to rely exclusively on their preeminent seniors. Another GA upperclassman, Kelli Stack, came on strong to lead all scorers in the contest, with five goals.

“Kelli Stack had a fabulous game,” said Patriots coach Ginny Hofmann, “and that was important because we knew they were really going to be marking Brooke, just as we were going to mark Iris. Fortunately, our scoring this year has been pretty spread out.”

Tigers mentor Katie Bergstrom Mark observed “It was an awesome game to be part of, and it was refreshing to see that defensive effort out there. It was a clean, well-played defensive game on both sides.”

There were no yellow cards given out during the afternoon, unusual in such an intense conflict.

GFS junior defender Sophie Mercuris converted on a free position to kick of the scoring in the opening minute, then GA’s Stack scooped a ground ball in the defensive end and romped all the way down to tie the score. The Tigers took the subsequent draw and Williamson knifed through the middle for the first of her three goals, then with 21:27 still to play in the first period the Pats pulled even again. Taking a feed from sophomore Cooper Hall, junior Caroline Haynie sank a sidearm shot to make it 2-2.

That score stayed on the board for almost nine minutes, and in large part that was due to GA freshman goalie Allie Carrigan. She turned back a number of Tiger shots, most of them aimed at the top corners. The hosts logged a lot of ball possession, partly due to poor transition defense by the Patriots. Several times, GFS was able to make midfield connections to players who didn’t have a marking opponent within 20 yards.

Carrigan, the GA keeper, is a field hockey forward in the fall, and she is used to playing club softball the rest of the year. On the diamond she’s a catcher, but instead of trying out for that role this spring in GA’s upper school program, she decided to add some variety to her routine by taking up a lacrosse stick for the first time. The move has paid off for GA throughout the season and particularly last Thursday, when the rookie registered a dozen saves.

“She’s done a great job for us,” Hofmann attested. “I think as a catcher she just has a keen eye for a ball coming in at her.”

Hofmann’s club went ahead for the first time when an entry pass from senior Hadley Hall (Cooper’s sister) found Stack in close with her back to the goal. Stack spun and shot in the same motion to make it 3-2 with 12:42 to go before halftime. Six minutes later, Williamson darted left to right in front of the crease and tied it up for the Tigers. Stack completed a hat trick for GA, then with 1:39 on the clock GFS sophomore Schuyler Nissen cashed in on a free position to even the tally once more.

At the end of the half GA’s Hanna Bogorowski (a sophomore transfer from Mount St. Joseph Academy) also had a free-po opportunity, but GFS senior keeper Lauren Shinn made her fourth save to foil the attempt. The count was 4-4 at the intermission, and when play resumed GFS had sophomore Dana Schulman (four saves) in the goal cage.

Another young player for the Tigers, freshman Annie Tyson, stepped up on offense, netting three goals and an assist in the second half.

“She’s good at coming up with ground balls near the goal,” noted Bergstrom Mark, “and once she gets the ball she’s able to move the goalie across the cage and find the corners. She has great composure for a freshman, and she’s earned the trust of everyone on the team.”

GA took the draw at the dawn of the second half, and had its first shot stopped by Schulman. Soon after that, Kiley tickled the twine on a solo effort, then GA scored in transition to go up 6-4, with a pass from Haynie setting up the goal by Hadley Hall. Another Schulman save kept the Pats from gaining a three-point edge, and Tigers rallied to even things up at 6-6 on free-position shots by Tyson and Williamson.

The next two markers, both by GA, also resulted from restarts. After Kiley was fouled, she passed to Haynie coming around the crease on the left for the visitors’ seventh goal, and then Stack stuck a high shot directly off of a free-position.

Now down 8-6 with 14:44 remaining, the Tigers responded with a three-point run in a little over two minutes. Isabella Didio, a senior who plans to play both lacrosse and field hockey at M.I.T., came from behind the cage to jam in a goal.

Next, GA’s Carrigan ventured a little too far upfield on a clear, and when the Pats turned the ball over the Tigers’ Tyson scored into the open net. The Patriot keeper stopped the next GFS shot, an attempt by Didio, but from out to the right of the arc Tigers senior Annie Morrissey sent a pass in to Tyson on the crease, and she scored her third goal of the day.

With 12:12 on the clock, GFS had moved ahead, 9-8. The score seesawed up to 10-9, with junior Lizzie Tillger assisting a GA goal by Kiley, and the home team responding with a Didio shot set up by Tyson.

GA’s Hofmann wasn’t worried by the modest deficit.

“All season long, one thing we’ve been able to do is score.” she said. “We feel we can get back in any game if we fall behind, as long as we can get the ball.”

In fact, the 10-9 tally only held up for 15 seconds. GA pocketed the draw and Stack rounded out her five-goal day thanks to a pass from Bogorowski. With 7:10 left to play the Patriots went ahead for good, as Tillger got the ball to Kiley, and she split the pipes from just outside the arc on the right. The next scoring play began with an interception by Cooper Hall and ended with a free-position shot by Tillger.

The clock showed 4:16 to go and GFS called time-out, now behind 12-10. The Tigers captured the following draw but had their next shot snuffed by Carrigan. A few minutes later, GA’s Bogorowski cut to the crease and received the ball from Tillger, scoring with 1:49 showing.

The Pats were leading by three, but they had a tough time maintaining possession down the stretch. After their 13th goal, the draw went to Mercuris of GFS, and quickly the Tigers’ Didio tightened the score to 13-11 with 1:37 to go. After that, GA won the draw but immediately committed a turnover. Mercuris carried the ball in from the left wing and slipped it to senior Hannah Drake, who brought the home team back within one, 13-12, with 1:11 still to play.

“We had a few passes that were off the mark, and I’m sure some of that was owing to the excitement of the game,” Hofmann said.

The next draw went to the hosts’ Morrissey and soon after that a free position in the arc was awarded to Williamson, but her low shot was saved by the visitors’ Carrigan. The Patriots tried to clear the ball up the right side, but turned it over out-of-bounds. Mercuris again put the ball in play and it ended up in Didio’s stick near the arc. A double-team by Kiley and Cooper Hall jarred the ball loose and prevented one more shot by the Tigers just before the final horn. The Patriots had survived.

Finishing the game with scoring hat tricks were Kiley of GA, and Didio, Tyson, and Williamson of Germantown Friends.