This is the last of a continuing series counting down the top Philly lacrosse stories of 2009
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/26/10
The La Salle boys’ lacrosse team took a few detours during the 2009 season, but the final path led the Explorers back to the state championship.
La Salle entered the year with a slew of key returnees – including four All-Americans – from a squad that won the final Keystone Cup championship in 2008. Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse ranked the team second in the preseason rankings. With an ambitious schedule that included some of the top MIAA (Maryland) powers, the hype surrounding the Explorers was enormous as they took the role of favorite to win the first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) title.
The season got off to a tough start, though, when a young but very talented Conestoga team stunned La Salle, 6-3. The Explorers rebounded with a tough 9-7 triumph over Colorado power Arapahoe, but then took on No. 1 ranked MIAA power Gilman on the road and dropped a heartbreaking 8-7 overtime decision after giving up the lead in the final seconds of regulation.
The next game was against another Maryland heavyweight, Calvert Hall, at home. The Explorers again had the lead late in the game, but saw Calvert Hall tie and win it in overtime after several calls most La Salle fans felt were disputable.
The Explorers, now 1-3, then hosted Malvern Prep, the team they defeated in a brilliant 4-3 game for the final Eastern Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association title game the previous year. The squads went into overtime and La Salle All-American middie Peter Schwartz won it in the second overtime, 4-3.
That win seemed to turn the Explorers’ fortunes around. They won 10 straight until suffering another double-overtime loss to a Maryland power, Georgetown Prep, 7-6. By that point, their standout long stick midfielder/face-off specialist, Tyler Knarr, was out with the same knee injury that took him out of the final stretch of the 2008 season.
La Salle, however, forged on and squared off with Catholic League rival St. Joseph’s Prep in the CL/District 12 finals. The winner would advance to the PIAA tourney and the loser would go home.
When the teams met earlier in the year, Knarr dominated the draws and the Explorers cruised, 16-6. But this time the Hawks played with the Explorers the entire time and La Salle prevailed, 4-3, after two St. Joe’s shots clanked off the cage in the final minute.
Once in states, the Explorers continued to roll, defeating Central Bucks East, 10-8, Downingtown East, 10-8, and Manheim Township, 10-3.
That set the stage for the much-anticipated rematch with Conestoga in the state finals at HersheyPark Stadium.
The Pioneers started strong, gaining leads of 2-0 and 3-2. But the Explorers seized the halftime edge, 4-3, with two late goals in the second period. The second half belonged to La Salle, which closed out a 7-3 victory and its third state title of the decade.
“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, who later was named Phillylacrosse.com Player of the Year, “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 was a big one and Manheim Township 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.”
La Salle, coached by Bill Leahy, finished fourth in the final LaxPower National Coaches/Computer Ratings, eighth in the final UA/IL rankings,and 12th in Lacrosse Magazine’s rankings.
Tags: La Salle