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BOYS LAX: Westtown Holds Off Episcopal Academy in Closing Seconds to Secure First Ever PAISAA Title

By Josh Abrams (@jabrams1998), 05/30/24, 12:30AM EDT


The Westtown School 2024 PAISAA Lacrosse Champions

Congratulations to Westtown School - 2024 PAISAA Champions - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren

By Josh Abrams (@jabrams1998)

(Photos by Lennie Malmgren (@lennietollarp)

Newtown Square, PA -- For Westtown School senior Matt Hammill and his teammates, this season was one they will certainly never forget.

To put it in his own terms; a year of 'firsts'.

"This really means everything," expressed Hammill after he and his Moose squad defeated Episcopal Academy, 14-13, in the inaugural PAISAA state championship game for boys lacrosse. 

Hammill's seven goals led all scorers in the contest, and he also added two assists. And while most likely overwhelmed with such positive emotions following the biggest win of his career, he was still able to put it all into perspective and realize the accomplishments he and his team achieved this season.

"We got our first FSL (title) under the belt; that was the first ever banner, and we got the first PAISAA (title)," Hammill said. "We got two firsts in one year, that's the best year I could ask for as a senior."

The Moose never trailed at any point in the game, but the host Churchmen did their part in making it as much of a championship-caliber affair as advertised. Hammill and fellow senior teammate Aiden Kammerer got going early, as they both found paydirt less than 90 seconds into the first quarter. Just seven seconds separated the pair's opening goals.

Westtown, the fourth seed in this year's introductory PAISAA bracket, established multiple three-goal leads throughout the first half. But second-seeded Episcopal refused to go away quietly.

PAISAA Championship Highlights: Westtown's Matt Hammill takes over for victorious Moose squad, including game winner (Video by Josh Abrams for PSD)

Hammill reflects on what this monumental win means for him and Westtown's program (Video by Josh Abrams for PSD)

Goals from Brody GarrisonParker Smith (twice), John Malone and Colin McGrath kept the Churchmen within reach in the first half. Smith and McGrath's tallies came in succession and cut Westtown's lead down to one, 6-5, before Hammill netted his fourth and senior attack Xander Maxwell found paydirt with 1:25 showing in the first half. 

Westtown took a three goal, 8-5 lead into halftime. It could have been 8-6 if it was not for the beyond-stellar efforts of Moose goaltender Arjun Gill

Episcopal Academy senior Dylan Jaszcz scores FIVE second half goals, helps Churchmen even up bout with Moose (Video by Josh Abrams for PSD)

Westtown goalie Arjun Gill played spectacular defense in net for the Moose, including game-sealing save in final seconds (Video by Josh Abrams for PSD)

With the second quarter winding down under 10 seconds, EA had possession looking to cut into WT's lead once more in the first half. Dylan Jaszcz rifled a pass towards the net that was caught by James Manion. The latter fired a shot at point-blank range but the quick-reflexed Gill made a spectacular save, cusping the ball in the net of his goalie stick. Westtown ran out the rest of the clock to hold onto their three-goal lead.

The Moose did their part in winning the first half of the contest. But there was another 24 minutes to be played. Hammill and company knew the last thing the team could afford to do was let their guard down. 

"The biggest thing was just staying together, staying positive no matter what," said the leading goal-scorer. "Even if the ball isn't going our way... we stayed together and got the job done."

Westtown's Arjun Gill talks about final seconds of thrilling championship victory (Video by Josh Abrams for PSD)

Westtown Boys Lax Head Coach Desi Gonzalez postgame interview following 14-13 victory over EA (Video by Josh Abrams for PSD)

It only took 15 seconds for Noah Snyder to get the scoring started in the second half; his second extended Westtown's lead to four. Malone and Hammill traded goals to make it 10-6 with 10:07 showing in the third quarter, and from that point on the tides turned. 

Westtown went on a nine-minute scoring drought in the third quarter, and Episcopal Academy took advantage, receiving four straight goals from Smith and Jaszcz. It was the fourth time already that EA had erased a three-plus goal lead, and this time they created a new game by tying it up. 

Moose head coach Desi Gonzalez anticipated EA coming back and making it a true state championship battle. He was particularly impressed with his team's willingness to do away with frequent/costly mistakes. 

"EA was definitely patient, they really tried to set up the chess pieces on the board," said Gonzalez. "Our offense was clicking today; we were shooting over 50%. The turnover rate was a little bit more than we would have liked but severely less than the last few games." 

He continued: "It truly came down to every little possession... a couple of those ground balls at the end there went their way, it could have went either way." 

Goals from Westtown's Ewen Patrick and Jaszcz (his third of the quarter) put the teams in a deadlock, 11-11 heading into the fourth quarter. Much like Westtown did in the previous frame, Episcopal Academy went on their own scoreless drought, this one at one of the worst possible times. In between the 38 second mark of the third quarter and 6:20 in the fourth, Snyder and Hammill recorded their third and sixth goals, respectively. Jaszcz did everything he could for EA, scoring their last two goals and tying the game one last time at 13 apiece. 

The decisive, game-winning goal came from none other than Hammill with just over four minutes remaining. But even with a remarkable game-high seven goals, the senior could not have been anymore selfless after the game. 

Gill's aforementioned efforts in net could not have come up more clutch. EA had the ball in the closing seconds with Malone circling around the net to try and get the ball past Arjun, but the Moose goalie stood tall and strong, corralling the final shot of the game and embracing his teammates in celebration. 

"Arj is the MVP. He puts the most work in I've ever seen, and it pays off as we can see," Hammill said. "The score might say something different but Arj is the best goalie in the nation, I promise you." 

Gonzalez took time after letting everything sink in to reflect on what his goalie means to him and the program. 

"Every team needs glue," expressed the first year leader . "He has been the glue for the last two years that he's been here. He was a kid that was kinda in no-man's land in Vancouver. For him to come to the East coast... we saw something special in him right away. I can't wait to see what he does at the next level because there's not many goalies out there that special."

Westtown closes their season with a 14-5 record, having taken home their first ever FSL and PAISAA state titles. Episcopal Academy finishes 14-7 overall.