CASTLE SHANNON, Pa. — Eight months ago, Thomas Jefferson advanced to the Class-1A Penguins Cup Final, all set to face Indiana to win it all. Thursday, the Jaguars finally got back on the ice. Newly advanced to Class-2A, their first test was against division foe Baldwin Highlanders, another 2020 finalist. Unfortunately, their double “A” debut was spoiled by Baldwin, Eddie Nowicki, and the Belak brothers. The Highlanders held off the Thomas Jefferson rally to secure a close 4-3 victory Thursday at Ice Castle Arena.
With an empty net, 60 seconds, and all the momentum from cutting a three goal deficit to a single goal, Thomas Jefferson looked to force overtime and, hopefully, pull off the come-from-behind victory. However, Baldwin goaltender Eddie Nowicki made several desperate saves and the Highlanders were flying high for the second time in four days.
Despite Thomas Jefferson testing Nowicki early, it was Baldwin that struck first. The Highlanders jumped out to a 1-0 lead 9:23 into the first period thanks to junior Collin Kuch on a mad scramble in front of Jaguars senior goaltender Luke Ripepi.
Baldwin kept the momentum through the second period. Just under two minutes in, Trevor Belak made it 2-0 Highlanders. But the Jaguars weren’t calling it quits. Ryan Kelly cut the Baldwin lead in half with a power play goal at 11:48. The Highlanders, not to be outdone, responded in dramatic fashion. Two goals just 27 seconds apart from Keith Reed and Dylan Belak made the advantage 4-1 after two periods.
The third period, though, was a flip of the script from the first two. Thomas Jefferson made the right adjustments and Senior goaltender Luke Ripepi stood tall. Eddie Pazo scored a 5-on-3 power play goal at 4:19. Hunter Fairman continued the comeback bid with just 1:02 to play, sneaking the puck past Nowicki to pull the Jaguars within a goal. That’s when Baldwin slammed the door, shutting down the Jaguars’ empty-net extra attacker, and preserved the 4-3 victory to move to 2-0 on the young season.
Eddie Nowicki stopped 30 of 33 shots for his second win of the season. Ripepi stopped 20 of 24 in the loss for Thomas Jefferson.
Baldwin will return to the friendly confines of Ice Castle Arena on Thursday, Nov. 12 to play Plum at 7 p.m. Thomas Jefferson will follow that game with a home game of their own on Nov. 12 at Ice Castle against another division foe, West Allegheny, at 9 p.m.