By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/12/11
HERSHEY – It was a difficult end to a wonderfully successful season for the St. Joseph’s Prep lacrosse team.
About an hour after losing to Conestoga, 13-4, in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) championship game at HersheyPark Stadium, the Hawks were noticeably subdued as they prepared to board for a long bus road home.
Jeff Heath, a senior All-American midfielder, said Conestoga deserved the credit for mounting an amazing 13-0 run after the Hawks had taken a quick 3-0 lead.
“We had been coming out slow in the beginning of the (state playoff) games and to go out 3-0 was exactly what we were preaching coming into the game,” said Heath, who had the game’s first goal. “We were warned about their transition game.
“We did a good job of limiting them in the beginning of the season (a 12-9 loss). But they were pretty electric and it showed today how talented they are.”
Conestoga, which finished 25-1 and claimed its second straight PIAA championship after falling in the finals two years ago to La Salle, is clearly one of the top teams in the nation.
But the Hawks (19-5) believed they had the talent to stick with the Pioneers. St. Joe’s Prep had played Conestoga even for nearly an entire game back on March 26 when the teams met to open the season.
But this time, the Pioneers’ speed and depth was too much for the Hawks, who fell behind, 4-3, after one period and 6-3 at halftime. St. Joe’s went more than three full periods without scoring a goal.
“It had nothing to do with being rattled,” said Heath. “We had played in big games all year. They have a lot of talent, we have a lot of talent. We matched them with intensity, but the balls went in more for them.
“It was tough. We’ve always been able to counter, and we were expecting to do that again. But sometimes the balls don’t roll the way you want them to.”
Heath said that although the loss is hard to swallow, he will surely look back on the season with great pride.
This was the year the Hawks finally defeated La Salle to win the Catholic League/District 12 title. The Explorers had won the last seven Catholic League crowns and had beaten St. Joe’s Prep 14 straight times, including three straight in tight games since Heath arrived at the Prep.
St. Joe’s also had big wins this year over Malvern Prep and Episcopal Academy of the Inter-Ac League and had taken No. 1-ranked Haverford School to overtime in a game it had in its grasp for a while. The biggest win may have been an 11-10 overtime triumph over Manheim Township in the PIAA quarterfinals.
Heath credited third-year Hawks coach Eric Gregg with taken the program to the next level after replacing another successful coach, Dan Keating.
“It was a really special season,” Heath said. “Coach Gregg taught me how to be a winner. It (defeating La Salle and making the state finals) was something I thought we could do, but we were never able to do it.
“He preached winning. Look what he’s done. He is a special man and someone I am going to keep in touch with.
“He built a foundation. I am just glad I am a part of what he is doing here. Our senior class (16 players) is dedicated and this is not the last time we’ll be in Hershey. This is a special season, but there will be a lot more special seasons.
“We’re going to get gold one day and I don’t think that day is going to be long.”
Gregg – who also wished to thank his assistant coaches – said the senior class has left its mark at St. Joe’s Prep. He listed other top highlights as beating Conestoga two years ago when the Pioneers were still unbeaten and downing Long Island power St. Anthony’s last year.
“To a man, all 39 guys and our coaches know we did not play our best game today,” he said. “You don’t get second chances in a game like this.
“But these seniors the past three years have beaten so many top teams. They’ve even beaten La Salle, which many Prep kids have never done in any sport.
“I just look back at these seniors as a group we’ll never forget. They will go down in Prep history. They led this team and I’ll never forget the day they first came to me and said how hard they wanted to work. It made my life hard, but that was a good problem.
“They made the sacrifices in the fall and winter. This is clearly what champions are made of. The best thing is they showed the underclassmen what it takes to get to this point.”
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