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Plum's Borriello a breakout star in goal

| Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, 10:33 p.m.

In terms of statistics, the PIHL's best starting goalie at the holiday break is a Plum junior who, just one season ago, backed up the league's most publicized female netminder.

As a first-year starter, James Borriello leads all varsity starters, regardless of classification, in save percentage (.938) and is tied for the best goals-against average (1.5). He has allowed just nine goals in six games — a bout with mononucleosis caused him to miss four games.

His breakout season has boosted the outlook for the youthful Class AA Mustangs, who graduated 10 players from the 2012-13 team, including his position predecessor, three-year starter Taylor Cestra.

“I'm always confident in myself,” Borriello said. “If you don't have confidence, it shows, so I just tried to remain mentally tough, even through those two years of sitting on the bench. It's certainly paid off so far and was well worth the wait.”

From Borriello to coach David Stonebraker, no one denied that Cestra, a PIHL Class AA All-Star as a junior, held her own among the boys. Borriello, who allowed just five goals in 150 minutes of ice time, accepted his backup role without bitterness.

“Everybody knew that she had the skill to be out there and play with everybody,” Borriello said. “I don't know if we'd have gotten the win some nights if not for her making a ton of saves.”

Said Stonebraker: “James handled that very, very professionally. Taylor was an excellent goalie, and we were happy to have her for the time that she was here at Plum. James realized that she was the senior. But did he want to play more? Absolutely. ... I was very happy to see the competitive nature and that he wanted to play constantly. But he was professional in biding his time, and frankly, this season is his time.”

Barely out of the gate in his first season as starter, Borriello came down with mono and missed most of Plum's games in November. His absence gave his backup, Ted Townsend, opportunities to show his potential, and Townsend fared reasonably well for the Mustangs, who went 0-2-2 during Borriello's absence.

“Teddy, he's probably the hardest worker on our team, and it's always nerve-racking when a guy works that hard, because coaches love those guys,” Borriello said. “You just have to go into practice every night knowing it's a battle between the pipes, and you try to outwork them. But it's fun, too; Teddy and I have a great relationship.”

In his first game back, Borriello delivered his best performance to date, as he made 34 saves in a 3-0 win over West Allegheny.

A week later, Borriello made a season-high 36 saves during his only loss, a 4-1 setback to Class AA-leader Bishop Canevin.

That Borriello became a PIHL standout this season failed to surprise Stonebraker.

“There's no fear factor whatsoever or lack of confidence when James skates onto the ice,” the coach said. “Not only does he instill that confidence in himself and show it, he also portrays it in a way that it carries over to the rest of the team, especially to our very young defense.”

Even Borriello wonders whether he'll continue to post PIHL-leading numbers during the latter half of the season, which Plum (6-3-2) begins Jan. 3 at Erie Cathedral Prep (7-2-2).

But the guy who never made a big deal about backing up a female teammate is just as mature and poised about the possibility of statistical regression.

“I'm definitely trying to ride this confidence high that I have, and I'd love to keep it going,” Borriello said. “But I'd be OK even if the numbers do slip as long as we're leading the conference and getting the W's.”

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