TJ Malone nets OT winner as Haverford School seals Inter-Ac title

TJ Malone, right, of the Haverford School is lifted up by Jack Denious after scoring the winning goal in overtime against Episcopal Academy for the Inter-Ac boys’ lacrosse championship on May 11, 2018. The Haverford School won 9-8 in overtime.

The great and wise philosopher Ric Flair once gifted the athletic world an utterance so sublime that it can be applied to any sport in any championship setting.

Well, in truth, Flair, a professional wrestling icon, is more of a “Nature Boy” than a wise man.

Nonetheless, “To be the man, you have to beat the man,” is a slogan that Flair made famous.

In Inter-Ac lacrosse, Haverford School is “the man,” and after Friday night’s 9-8 overtime thriller against host Episcopal Academy, the Fords are still “the man,” the league’s regular-season champions.

Senior attacker TJ Malone made sure of that after securing a slick pass from junior midfielder Peter Garno.

“This wins means a ton,” Malone said. “We just finished off the regular season [undefeated] in the Inter-Ac so there’s no discrepancies between who’s the best right now. We just want to use this momentum and go into the postseason strong and hopefully go undefeated in the league.”

The Fords (15-3) were without head coach John Nostrant, whose daughter, Olivia, is a senior at High Point, which played in the first round of the women’s NCAA lacrosse tournament in College Park, Md.

Longtime assistant coach Mark Petrone was at the helm along with his fellow assistant coaches.

Next week the league begins its postseason tournament. In previous seasons, it had included teams from out of the area such as Culver Academy from Ohio. This year, however, the tournament includes only Inter-Ac teams.

“See you in two weeks,” someone on the Episcopal sideline said aloud as the Fords celebrated.

Friday night’s action was furious. The crowd was raucous and the intensity was palpable.

Malone, an Amherst commit, finished with four goals. Luke O’Grady added two more.

Chris McCoun and Nick Bates scored two goals apiece for Episcopal (7-5).

The Churchmen jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first quarter and led 3-2 as the second frame began.

Forced and unforced turnovers, though, hurt Episcopal at critical times and helped the Fords to score four unanswered goals and end the half with a 6-4 advantage.

Their lead ballooned to 8-4 with 6 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third after Malone netted goal No. 3.

Episcopal sophomore Nick Bates added a goal with 37.4 seconds left in that frame that earned modest momentum.

The Churchmen added three more in the fourth, including sophomore Charlie Cunniffe’s game-tying tally with 26.6 left in regulation.

Both Malone and Garno, a junior headed to the University of Virginia, were pleased with how their team responded.

“Our team is amazing with team chemistry,” Malone said. “We’re just embracing the last week-and-a-half that we have left, so it’s pretty sentimental.”

Each had respect for their opponent and knew winning wouldn’t be easy.

“We tend to embrace it,” Garno said of being the hunted. “We know everybody’s going to be coming at us, and we almost use it as motivation because it’s kind of like everyone’s Super Bowl playing against us. … We try to embrace it, power through and win games.”

The final possession, Garno said, didn’t go as planned.

Eventually, Malone snuck behind the defense.

“Once I saw he caught it, I knew he was gonna finish it,” Garno said.

Malone was asked what ran through his mind after he scored.

“What celebration do I do?” he joked. “No, I’m just ecstatic to have all these people here under the lights and finish off my last Inter-Ac season with a win, and couldn’t do it any better way than overtime.”

Haverford School      2    4    2    0    1   – 9

Episcopal                  3    1     1    3    0   – 8

HS: TJ Malone 4, Luke O’Grady 2, Adam Salvaggio, Peter Garno, Scott Deck.
EA: Chris McCoun 2, Nick Bates 3, Rowan Brumbaugh, Gabe Furey, Charlie Cunniffe.
Saves: HS — Harrison Fellheimer 7; EA — Matt Chess 8.