Super 8: Austin Prep 2, Reading 1

LOWELL, Mass. – Round 1 of the intra-city series goes to the boys on Willow Street.

Sophomore Elijah Harris carried a shutout into the final 30 seconds, and goals from freshmen Jake McKenelley and Eric MacAdams helped guide Austin Prep to a 2-1 win over crosstown rival Reading at Tsongas Arena in Game 1 of this best-of-three Super 8 quarterfinal series.

The Rockets, who got a goal from senior Ryan Thomson with 22.2 seconds remaining, will look to even the score Wednesday night at Stoneham Arena.

McKenlley scored for the Cougars (14-1-6) at 4:52 of the first, crashing the net and finishing a rebound off a shot from sophomore Bob Carpenter, who had made a nice rush down the left wing. Prep played solid defense from there on out, and Harris (24 saves) took care of the rest.

“I’m proud of our guys, because maintaining a 1-0 lead from the first period to the third period, that’s something to build off of, especially against a great team,” Prep head coach Louis Finocchiaro said.

MacAdams effectively ended the game with 41.9 seconds to play, scoring on an empty-net from his own zone. Thomson’s goal made it interesting, but Prep was able to run out the rest of the clock to hold on for the win.

MacAdams’ goal came with Reading skating 6-on-4, as Cougar junior defenseman Andrew Cross was sent to the box for a hit to the head with 1:48 remaining. Reading (16-2-5) had a few good chances to tie it, the best coming just seconds before MacAdams’ goal when a shot by junior Mike Thomson from the right circle took a deflection before Harris made a good pad save.

Harris also robbed Mike Thomson on a point-blank chance early in the second period, and his overall performance showed he was up to the challenge of playing in the Super 8.

“He played unbelievable,” McKenelley said of Harris. “He held us in there at the end. He’s a great goalie.”

Harris’ counterpart, Reading senior Evan Morelli, made 29 saves and played a strong game in his own right. Prep attacked the Rockets’ net with a flurry of shots in the middle of the second period, culminating in Morelli making a great double-save on MacAdams and then senior Nolan Vesey on the rebound with 4:33 to play in the frame.

“He’s very good, and we need him to be very good. That’s his job,” Reading head coach Mark Doherty said of Morelli. “If you wanna’ be that guy, you need to play well, and he’s a very good goaltender. I think, basically, he’s right up there with the best in the state.”

McKenelly was the only player to beat Morelli on the night, continuing a strong freshman campaign that saw him enter the tournament as Prep’s third-leading goal-scorer with 11.

“He played as an eighth-grader for us last year and he had a solid season, and he’s having a solid season for us this year from start to finish,” Finocchiaro said.

Prep also got a good performance from its defensemen. The pairings of Cross and senior Zach Fuller, and sophomore Matt Morgan and freshman J.J. Layton, refused Reading’s forwards the space to operate in front of the net.

Both Finocchiaro and McKennelley said Prep’s defense was a team effort.

“We weren’t letting them get three-on-twos or odd-man rushes,” McKenelley said. “We just kinda’ kept it out of the zone and try to play more offense than defense.”

The shots wound up being fairly even – Austin Prep 31, Reading 25 – but the Rockets will look to create more quality chances in Game 2 Wednesday. Face-off is set for 7:45 p.m.