Groeninger’s Nine Points Lifts St. Margaret’s Past Palos Verdes

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St. Margaret’s saved the best for last and scored five goals in the last quarter to defeat Palos Verdes 10-8 in Saturday’s a potential preview of the Southern Section championship game. Following Thursday’s tough 18-8 loss to the No. 2 team in the West, Torrey Pines, the Tartans (no. 5 in the West), the Tartans got a boost of confidence by beating the no. 4 team in the West.

“Very big to respond and shake all that nastiness off, because that was some ugly stuff on Thursday,” Tartans head coach Glen Miles said. “Torrey (Pines) played well, I’m not going to take anything away from them. But we definitely needed to shake that off.”

The best team in Orange County and the best team in Los Angeles were evenly matched in a game in which the defenses had the upper hand for most of the time.  Neither team could generate much offense until the Tartans scored five goals in the final quarter. Kevin Groeninger (3g, 6a) came back in a big way after missing the last 2-1/2games with a clutch nine-point performance that included two important goals in the final 12 minutes.

Kevin Groeninger had three goals and six assists in the Tartans’ 10-8 win over Palos Verdes on Saturday (Photo: Brandon Ross).

The highly anticipated matchup at the faceoff ‘X’ between the Sea Kings’ Cole Clinton and the Tartans’ Stuart Pollard was one to watch all game. However, the bounces and ground balls were going in Pollard’s and the Tartans favor with a 16/22 advantage.

“[Clinton] just didn’t get it out clean,” said Sea Kings head coach Jimmy Borell. “He was willing to clamp and he was doing a good job at making it tough for [Pollard]. If you’re not willing to clamp, you’re trying to make it tough for them to come out with it clean to give the ‘wings’ a chance at competing for ground balls. Unfortunately, we just weren’t there. [St. Margarets] was just better than us [Saturday].”

Birk Swan (4g, 2a) paced the Sea Kings offensively and scored both of PV’s goals in the first quarter to give them an early 2-0 lead.  Kyle McCann had four impressive stops in the frame, and ended the game with 15 total saves.

The Tartans responded quickly in the second quarter with an early score from Koa Todd (3g, 1a), with Groeninger’s first of three coming two minutes after. Swan scored his third with an assist coming from Landon Smith (1a), but a beautiful Tartans pass from Groeninger to Nate Sanchez (4g) tied the game at three with 33 seconds left in the half.

Todd and Sanchez scored for the Tartans in the third, and Luc Charbonnier (3g) and Michael Nagy (1g, 1a) scored one apiece in the frame and as a result, there was a 5-5 tie heading into the final 12 minutes.

Birk Swan (left) had four goals and two assists for the Sea Kings on Saturday (Photo: Brandon Ross).

Sanchez and Groeninger scored three unanswered goals early to give St. Margarets an 8-5 lead with 9:09 left in the fourth. Each team traded goals the rest of the way, and Sanchez’s fourth goal with 2:25 on the clock sealed the Tartans’ 10-8 win in the entertaining OC vs LA matchup.

“I think [Sanchez] is the ‘X’ factor,” Miles said. “I think he’s very very good, and when he steps up and makes a decision to play that way, he changes the dynamic of the offense.”

Despite the tough loss and the want to improve, Borell’s tone after the game was a positive one, and hopes the teachings they take out of their game Saturday will only help his squad moving forward.

“I thought we played good, but we didn’t play good enough, obviously,” Borell said. “It’s great to play a game like that this late in the season. It just helps you prepare for the playoffs and all that other good stuff.”

The Tartans will look to close out their regular season on a high note Wednesday when they travel to Tesoro. As for the Sea Kings, they will participate in the Bay League tournament which begins on Tuesday.