It was not just that Strath Haven had won the league, but that the title came with a victory over the Aces. It was Lower Merion that had beaten the Panthers in the state semifinals last year on the way to becoming state champs. It was Lower Merion that forced Strath Haven to share the league title last year by beating the Panthers, 1-0, in the final game of the regular season. And it was Lower Merion that had taken the Central League title in each of the two years before that.
"We've always had a really strong team, so we felt like we had something to prove," said Strath Haven midfielder Chris Naylor. "A lot of us have been here since our sophomore year, and Jason (Luzak) since he was a freshman. We've taken the team to districts and states and we thought this was something we should win. It was something we had to do to prove ourselves."
Luzak scored 1 minute into the game, taking a pass from Naylor to the right of the net and firing it past Lower Merion goalie Jason DiLullo.
The Aces came right back, scoring 3 minutes later to tie the game. Strath Haven goaltender Blake Strine deflected a shot by Chris Schreiner, but Louis Spivak headed the rebound into the net.
That was all the scoring until late in the third quarter. Naylor neutralized the Aces' biggest threat, Schreiner, in a matchup at midfield, and Matt Wallach played an excellent game at stopper.
"They're quick up front and took us off our game up front," said Lower Merion coach Bob Robinson. "Normally we're very good in the air, but every time we put it in the air they took it."
The Panthers paid for their defense with a lack of offense.
"I was little back on my heels, I was a little scared marking him (Schreiner)," Naylor said. "I've played him before but never marked him man-to-man. He's hard to cover, he runs around a lot, he's always moving. It definitely took me out of my offensive game. I only had two (scoring) opportunities and usually I have eight or nine."
"As far as I'm concerned, Schreiner is the key to their team," Barr said. ''I think he is one of the best players to ever come out of the Central League. But I also thought Steve Linck would be able to get open all game
because of the way Schreiner plays. He makes runs all over the place. We thought it would open up a lot of space for Linck but it didn't happen."
Luzak proved to be the difference. The Aces had Danny Mass, one of their top defensive players, shadowing the all-America senior throughout the game, but had only limited success. In the second half, Luzak sparked several attacks. Finally late in the third period, after taking the ball over half the length of the field, Luzak found Linck breaking for the net to set up the go- ahead goal.
"That was a great play by Jason," Linck said. "I couldn't have asked for a better ball."
Also on Tuesday, Penncrest (3-5, 9-7) stopped Ridley 2-0. The loss came on the heels of the Raiders' (2-6, 4-12-3) fourth win, a 6-3 victory over Glen
Mills (2-7, 4-10) on Monday. In the Del-Val, Sun Valley (5-3-1, 7-9-1) retained second place with a 5-0 win over Academy Park (0-8, 1-12). Despite falling to Harriton, 1-0, Interboro (5-4, 8-5-2) held on to third place, one game ahead of Penn Wood (4-4-1, 6-7-3). The Christian Academy beat Garnet Valley, 5-3.