GREENVILLE – Sarah Kunkle was in the right place, and it was definitely the right time, as Padua defeated St. Andrew’s, 15-14, in thrilling first-round girls lacrosse state tounament action on May 17 at Tatnall School. Kunkle pounced on a rebound of a Rachel Delate free-position shot and threw it at the net, and the ball went through the legs of Cardinals keeper Charlotte Oxnam with a second left on the clock.
The goal capped a furious comeback by the eighth-seeded Pandas, who trailed by three on two occasions in the closing minutes. With the win, the second in the postseason in the program’s four-year history, the Pandas earned a trip to Lewes on Saturday to face top-seeded and nine-time defending state champion Cape Henlopen.
Kunkle, understandably, was mobbed by her teammates after the final faceoff, and afterward held the ball she had just put in the net. Her name, the opponent and date of the game were already written on the ball.
“I saw the rebound, and I knew that I had to go,” she said. “There were like five or six seconds left, and I was just like, ‘I just have to throw it.’ And it went right between her legs, and I sobbed right after. It’s the best way to go out this game, my senior year. I’ve never been more happy.”
The game was close throughout and was tied at the half, 5-5. Kunkle and Delate each scored in the first five minutes of the second half, and the Pandas appeared to be taking control, but No. 9 St. Andrew’s had other ideas. The Cardinals tied the game on goals by Heleah Soulati and Cindy Lay, and the teams were also tied at eight and nine.
That is when the Cardinals went into another gear, taking control of faceoffs and ground balls and making the Pandas pay. Elisa Davila used her height to control a loose ball, and Soulati picked up a ground ball near the net and beat Pandas keeper Liz Hennessy with 9:19 to go. Davila and Soulati struck again at the 8:02 mark, as Davila fed Soulati off a free-position play, and Soulati converted. The Cardinals increased the lead to 12-9 50 seconds later, with Soulati again capitalizing on a pass from Davila.
Jordan Bramble answered for Padua shortly thereafter, but St. Andrew’s restored the three-goal cushion with just 6:50 on the clock on a free-position shot by Piper Ackermann.
The Pandas knew they couldn’t dwell on the deficit, Delate said, and just had to go to work.
“We just basically said the game’s not over. That’s what our mindset was. We knew we needed to win. It was all mindset from there. I think that’s the major asset of this team. Everyone goes in with a positive head. They’re ready to play,” she said.
Bramble was rejected by Oxnam with six minutes to go, but Grace DiGiovanni sent the rebound home. Bramble won the ensuing faceoff, took the ball downfield and was fouled as she approached the goal. She scored on the free shot. St. Andrew’s called a timeout with 5:17 to go.
Hennessy kept the Cardinals’ lead at a single goal when she stoned Hanna Soulati at point-blank range with 4:15 remaining. Ava Ruggieri tied the score, 13-13, at the 3:37 mark after holding the ball for several seconds, cutting into the crease and bouncing one in.
But the Pandas had little luck controlling Heleah Soulati. She put the Cardinals in front for the final time on a free-position shot with 1:04 left. But with time winding down, Delate earned a free shot. She was fouled as she tried to elude the defense was awarded another freebie. This time, she buried it.
Padua regained possession and worked the seconds down. Again, it was Delate who drew a foul with fewer than seven ticks on the clock. She went low, but Oxnam was her equal. Kunkle found the ball rolling on the turf, her bouncer found paydirt.
Kunkle knows the Pandas will be underdogs Saturday night at Cape, but she believes in her team.
“It’s going to be a challenge, we know that. But we’re ready for it. We have done so many amazing things this year. We know we have it if we come out strong. I think after this we’re all super-excited to see what we can do,” she said.
Official statistics were not available Thursday evening. Unofficially for St. Andrew’s, Heleah Soulati had six, five of those in the second half. Davila had three and Lay a pair. The Cardinals finished the season at 9-7.
For the Pandas (10-5), Bramble had a hat trick, and Delate, DiGiovanni, Kunkle, Ruggieri and Cecilia Krienen each scored twice.