By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/6/09
HERSHEY – Revenge was sweet for La Salle, in more ways than one.
The Explorers used a stifling defense, a hat trick from Peter Schwartz and brilliant goaltending from Niko Amato to rally from an early 2-0 deficit and topple Conestoga, 7-3, today for the first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) boys’ lacrosse championship at HersheyPark Stadium.
The win gave La Salle (21-4) back-to-back state championships. The Explorers won the final Keystone Cup crown last year when the state tournament was run by the Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Associations.
This year the PIAA, the state’s governing body for sports, took over jurisdiction of boys’ lacrosse for the first time and sanctioned the state tourney. In either case, La Salle is the first to win two straight PA state titles since Ridley won three in a row from 2001-03.
The Explorers’ victory also was a case of redemption. Conestoga (24-2) had defeated La Salle, 6-3, in the season’s first game, when the Explorers entered the year ranked second in the Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse National Power Rankings.
Since that time, the Explorers have yearned for another shot at the Pioneers – and today they got it.
“The first game they kind of came out and took it to us and we weren’t ready to play them,” said Schwartz. “We were focused this game and we knew what we had to do and get the momentum going our way.
“Winning back-to-back championships blows my mind.”
“It’s awesome,” added La Salle defenseman Tucker Durkin, “It’s even more special because it’s the first PIAA one and the last (Keystone Cup). It’s exciting and I’m happy to do it with a great group of seniors and a great coaching staff.”
Durkin admitted the team wanted to face Conestoga in the finals, but tried not to look ahead.
“It was kind of in the back of our minds, none of the coaches nor players really said anything about it,” he said. “We kind of took everything game by game. We thought, from the beginning of the bracket, that every single game was a big one. Downingtown East (the team they beat in the quarterfinals) was a big one and Manheim Township (semifinals) was a tough game.
“We didn’t want to look ahead, but we definitely saw that if we kept winning, we’d get another shot against Conestoga.”
Conestoga seized the 2-0 lead when senior Paul Mita scored 52 seconds into the game and then again midway through the first quarter. But Schwartz, a two-time All-American headed to Harvard, beat Peter Zonino (seven saves) with 28 seconds left in the quarter.
La Salle then tied it with one second left in the quarter on a tally by sophomore Kevin Forster. But Conestoga regained the lead, 3-2, on a goal by Peter Bowers with 4:07 left in the half. But Schwartz tied it 1:06 later and Westy Hopkins gave the Explorers the lead for good with 15 seconds left in the half.
After that, La Salle’s defense, led by two-time All-American Tucker Durkin and Amato, took over. Also, Maryland-bound Amato (10 saves) was brilliant.
“We have one of the best defense in the state, maybe the country; we have a great goalie, and great defensemen,” Schwartz said. “We knew they’d do their job if we could get our offense going.”
The Explorers seized the opportunity in the second half and Schwartz made it 5-3 with 1:57 left in the quarter. The fourth quarter was all La Salle, as Hopkins scored early in the stanza and Randy Forster salted it with 3:07 to play.
“We definitely wanted them bad,” said Randy Forster. “We wouldn’t have wanted it to be anyone else.
“They came out pretty confident, but once we scored our goals we controlled the tempo and the defense locked down. It’s unbelievable, a great way to go out; we’re the first and the last to do it (win the PIAA and Keystone Cup crowns).”
Hopkins credited Schwartz for getting the offense untracked.
“I think Pete kind of took over,” said Hopkins. “He did a good job getting us going with these early goals. Then we kept going from there. There is nothing like redemption.”
Durkin, along with seniors Mike Noone (Lehigh), Tyler Houchins (Drexel) and Mike Donohoe and sophomore Mark DiFrangia led the defense for La Salle as Conestoga was held to its fewest total of the year (previously six was the fewest).
“That was a long to go without a goal,” said Conestoga coach Brian Samson. “We needed to get one and I thought if we got one, we could get back on a roll. But Niko was great in the pipes; he is the best.”
Samson noted that his team nearly got the lift it needed when Mike Ackerman scored what appeared to be a goal with 7:20 to play, one that would have made it 6-4. But it was called back due to a crease violation.
“That game was like a reversal of the first time we played them,” Samson said. “We were dropping some balls and missing some shots. But what can I say? I’m really proud of our guys, we battled and hustled for all the loose balls.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way. Give all the credit to La Salle. They put together a great game plan and they capitalized on all their opportunities when they needed to.”
La Salle 7, Conestoga 3
Conestoga 2-1-0-0 – 3
La Salle 2-2-1-2 – 7
Conestoga scoring: Paul Mita 2g; Peter Bowers 1g; Jason Klunder 1a; Austin Roguski 1a.
La Salle scoring: Peter Schwartz 3g; Westy Hopkins 2g; Kevin Forster 1g, 1a; Randy Forster 1g.
Saves: Peter Zonino (Con) 7, Niko Amato (L) 10.
C: Mita (Rogusky), 11:08
C: Mita (Klunder), 6:11
L: Schwartz (X), :28
L: K. Forster (X), :01
C: Bowers (X), 4:07
L: Schwartz (K. Forster), 3:01
L: Hopkins (X), :15
Saves: Peter Zonino (C) 7, Niko Amato (L) 7.
L: Schwartz (X) 1:57
L: Hopkins (X), 10:35
L: R. Forster (X), 3:07