By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/9/13
HERSHEY – These two teams have been the dominant forces in Pennsylvania boys’ lacrosse since the PIAA tournament was launched four years ago.
But Saturday, La Salle clearly stated its case as the top squad in the PIAA as it raced to a 6-0 lead and coasted past Conestoga, 13-4, at HersheyPark Stadium.
The Explorers (23-2), ranked No. 1 by Phillylacrosse.com and No. 10 nationally by TopLaxRecruits.com, also gained a measure of revenge against the Pioneers. Conestoga, which had won three straight PIAA crowns, had defeated La Salle, 10-7, in last year’s title game and 10-6, in the 2010 championship game.
This time, La Salle was the favorite and the Explorers flexed their muscles from the start, scoring six goals in the first eight minutes of play.
The title was La Salle’s second in the PIAA – the Explorers topped Conestoga, 7-3, in the first matchup in 2009 – and its fourth overall (2004, 2008).
“It’s been a long time coming,” said La Salle senior defenseman Stefan Bergman. “”We’ve had this day pictured in our minds since tryouts on March 1. We’ve been working hard this whole way. It was only a matter of time.
“There have only three teams that have gotten down here. This has become quite the showdown and it’s always good to see them and test ourselves against them. They move well without the ball and they got a few good moves today, but we outworked them.”
La Salle closed the season with 21 straight wins. This performance was one its most impressive.
Brian McNamara opened the scoring 3:35 into the first quarter and then Jeff Cimbalista (three goals, one assist) scored off a Brendan McMonigle feed 1:49 later. Then Matt Rambo (four goals) tallied three straight goals in a span of 2:09 and Sean Coleman (two goals, four assists) struck 20 seconds later.
When the smoke cleared, it was 6-0 La Salle and the Pioneers barely knew what hit them.
Conestoga regrouped in the second quarter when Sam Friedman and Jake Scott (two goals) scored to make it 6-2, but Coleman and Stephen Hudak responded to make it 8-2 at halftime.
“That’s been our strength most of this year; coming out hard against teams,” said Cimbalista. “Our biggest problem was in the second quarter. We slowed down a little but. But I think we got back after it their little run.
“It’s a testament to the hard work of this team. I have never been with a great group of guys that who wanted something so much.
“We have been focused for three months; that’s a really hard thing to do. It’s been the greatest group of guys and every one of these guy deserves it.”
“I am going to remember this for the rest of my life,” added Rambo. “The weight’s off my shoulder. Last year we got criticized for not finishing. I can’t explain it- I am so happy inside.”
The Pioneers had overcome a key injury this year to standout defenseman Carson Scott and some struggled against a national schedule. Their 15-11 record was deceiving because many of the losses came to nationally-ranked teams, but their won a share of their fourth Central League title in five years and continued an amazing streak of reaching the PIAA finals for the fifth time in its five-year history.
“We knew it was a tall order to beat these guys,” said Conestoga coach Brian Samson. “I was proud of the way we played. Their transition really hurt us early. They have great shooters and that’s a team you really can’t go down by more than three or four goals to because their defense is so strong and their goaltenders played well.
“They really are a complete team. I think they have great players all over the field; Rambo and Coleman are great players, but the other guys really hurt us, too.
“For us, we had nine seniors that have really made a mark on this program and our underclassmen couldn’t have had better leaders.”
La Salle coach Bill Leahy said his team was prepared for anything Conestoga might try to defense his potent attack. He even watched the film of the Pioneers’ upset win over the Explorers to open the season in 2009.
“We were ready; we had a great week of practice,”he said. “I think we have been on fire since April. We readjusted the team when Sean came back (from a football injury) and have played excellent lacrosse.
“(Looking back at) my 23 years, the past month we’ve been playing the best lacrosse I have ever seen.”
La Salle 13, Conestoga 4
La Salle 6-2-2-3 – 13
Conestoga 0-2-1-1 – 4
Matt Rambo 4g
Sean Coleman 2g, 4a
Jeff Cimbalista 3g, 1a
Zach Drake 1g, 1a
Brian McNamara 1g
Brendan McMonigle 1a
Stephen Hudak 1g
Michael Pascali 1g
Nick Hreshko 4 saves
Colin MacDougall 4 saves
Conor Scafidi 1 save
Sam Friedman 1g
Jake Scott 2g
Zach Phelps 1g
Brendan Bassett 1a
Lucas Dickey 1a
Robbie Zonino 9 saves