By Chris Goldberg & Matt Blymier
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/7/08
MILLERSVILLE – It clearly was not the most impressive performance in a season that featured 31 victories – with some of them for the ages.
But Friday night at Comet Field, La Salle finished off a season that won’t soon be forgotten as it held off Manheim Township, 7-5, to claim the final Keystone Cup boys’ lacrosse championship.
The win capped a 31-2 season for the Explorers, who last won the crown in 2004. Manheim finished 19-9.
The title was the last of an era in which every team in the state was eligible for the “true” state championship. Next year the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) takes over jurisdiction of boys’ lacrosse and teams from the powerful Inter-Ac League will not be involved because they are not PIAA members.
Since 2000, the champion of the Eastern Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association (EPSLA) has played the winner of the western and central regions for the Keystone Cup. To reach the Keystone Cup game, La Salle had to beat Inter-Ac powers Haverford School (7-6 in double-overtime) and nationally-ranked Malvern Prep (4-3).
The Explorers, who were ranked seventh in the latest STX/Inside Lacrosse National High School Rankings, jumped to a 5-2 halftime lead but saw Manheim draw within 6-5 early in the fourth quarter.
La Salle, though, got a key insurance goal from Peter Schwartz and held on for the final minutes as post-season hero Niko Amato (14 saves) continued his excellence in goal.
“I think we were a little flat,” said La Salle junior Randy Forster, who led the attack with three goals. “I guess we were a little tired, that’s not really an excuse. We pulled it out in the end.”
“We’re exhausted,” added La Salle coach Bill Leahy. “If anybody experienced what we experienced Friday night (the win over Haverford).
“People were calling it the most exciting high school athletic event they’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen anything like. We are emotionally and physically exhausted. For them to come out and win in the same spirit as all the other ones, we’ll take it.”
Forster had two of his tallies in the first half to stake his team to a 5-2 lead. It was 6-3 entering the final period, but junior Danny Wertz (three goals) scored twice in a row within a minute-and-a half early to make it 6-5.
“Yeah (I expected it).” Leahy said of the comeback by Manheim. “Last year it was 5-3, Downingtown East and Mt. Lebanon.”
Leahy was referring to last year’s championship game when Downingtown East was seriously challenged by western champion Mt. Lebanon. In years past, the EPSLA champion had cruised in the final game.
“Anybody who is that good and all of sudden believes, you’re going to have your hands full,” Leahy said.
Schwartz put La Salle back ahead with 8 minutes, 41 seconds left to play to break a 17-minute scoring drought for the Explorers.
“They have a zone defense and we’ve haven’t mastered it all year,” said Leahy, whose team was outshot, 20-11, in the second half and 31-26 overall.
Ryan Eidenshink, Gordie Wells and Matt Lynch added one goal apiece for La Salle. Chris Gorham posted 16 saves for the Blue Streaks. Manheim, which came on late in the season and whipped Mt. Lebanon, 11-4, to reach the finals, also got two goals from All-American Chris Zielinski.
“He’s (Amato) better than advertised,” said Zielinski of the La Salle goalie who earned MVP honors in the EPSLA finals. “I think he was great.
“I don’t know if it was excitement or not, but we played catch with him a little bit, I don’t think we made him work too hard.” With the final EPSLA and Keystone titles in hand, La Salle – a junior-laden team – will enter next year with high expectations. For now, the Explorers can relish in their accomplishments.
“It’ll be the last EPSLA and the last Keystone Cup,” Leahy said. “It’s great. The challenge now is to be the first PIAA team (to win).”
Added Forster: “It’s really special. It’s amazing to be the last people to win that (Keystone Cup) and hopefully repeat next year. That’s our goal.”
KEYSTONE CUP CHAMPIONSHIP
La Salle 3 2 1 1—7
Manheim Township 1 1 1 2—5
La Salle Scoring: R. Forster 3, Lynch, Eidenshink, Wells, Schwartz. MT Scoring: Wertz 3, Zielinski 2.
La Salle Assists: R. Forster, Lynch, K. Forster, Schwartz, Ridgeway.
MT Assists: Wertz, DuBois, Stratton, Miller.
Shots: L 26; MT 31. Saves: L—Amato 14; MT—Gorham 17.
1st LS- Randy Forster from Matt Lynch (7:14) LS Ryan Eidenshink (5:49) LS R. Forster from K. Forster (4:17) MT Chris Zielinski from Dan Wertz (2:20)
2nd LS Lynch from R. Forster (9:36) LS Gordon Ells from Pete Schwartz (8:55) MT Wertz (8:06)
3rd MT Zielinski from Mark Stratton (7:03) LS R. Forster from Conrad Ridgeway (3:23)
4th MT Wertz from Conner DuBois (10:55) MT Wertz from Qunit Miller (9:19) LS Schwartz (8:41)
Tags: La Salle