By Chris Goldberg
Philllyacrosse.com, Posted 5/22/09
It was one-and-done when La Salle and St. Joseph’s Prep, the two top-ranked teams in the state, met Thursday night at Swarthmore College for the Catholic League (District 12) boys’ lacrosse championship.
The winner would earn the league crown, the top ranking in the state and bragging
rights of a storied rivalry between two schools that respect each other, but can’t stand to lose to the other.
The loser would be left with no league crown and no berth in the state tourney.
The game more than lived up to the buildup as La Salle rallied for a thrilling 4-3 victory, securing its sixth straight Catholic League crown and 15th out of 17 as well as the lone District 12 berth in the first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) playoffs.
The top-ranked Explorers (17-4) will play the loser of today’s third-place District 1 game between Springfield-Delco and Central Bucks East (at Villanova University, 6 p.m.). The Hawks go home with a 16-2 final record and the knowledge they took La Salle to the limit.
“St. Joe’s Prep is our rival school,” said La Salle All-American goalie Niko Amato, who made seven saves and several clutch stops in the final minutes. “It’s the most hard- working win for us all year and we’re just happy to stay alive for another day.
“Luckily we had a lot of returning guys that had a lot of big games behind them. I think that’s what carried us over the top today.”
The Prep had its chances to tie the game and sent it into overtime. The Hawks controlled the ball nearly all of the final five minutes. Jeff Heath hit the post with 40 seconds left and Brendan Glynn clanked one off the crossbar with 20 seconds left.
Finally, the Explorer defense grabbed a loose ball and a defender heaved it into Hawks territory and the game was overall.
Last time these two teams met – on April 28 at La Salle – the Explorers routed St. Joe’s, 16-6. The game occurred three days after The Prep had dealt Conestoga its lone defeat and had taken over the No. 1 ranking in the state.
This time, the Hawks got a strong game from goalie Mike Zikoski (nine saves) and fared much better in the face-offs (winning 3 of 7). The big reason for that is the absence of La Salle All-American long-stick middie and face-off ace Tyler Knarr, who has been out three weeks with recurring knee problems and is questionable for the rest of the year.
Westy Hopkins paced the La Salle attack with two goals, including the game-winner late in the third quarter. As usual, Tucker Durkin anchored the La Salle defense, which held the dangerous Hawks attack scoreless the entire second half.
“We were expecting this (a tight game),” said Hopkins. “They are a very talented team and they battled the whole way.
“This is Prep-La Salle and it’s a big rivalry. We could have finished a couple times on offense; but our defense played great. The defense deserves all the credit.”
Hopkins also commended St. Joseph’s Prep.
“It’s unfortunate that they are out (of the playoffs),” Hopkins said. “They are one of the best teams we’ve played all year, absolutely.
“I give them a lot of credit for coming out after we beat them in the first game so bad. Congratulations to them.”
Prep’s first-year coach Eric Gregg, had mixed feelings. He was proud of his team’s performance, but felt heartbreak since his team also had a strong chance to win.
“The same theme was coming up: Look forward,” he said. “We just left that (the 16-6 loss) in the past. We knew that day back on April 28 we didn’t show up. We knew we could play at their level, if not above (it).
“Tonight the ball just didn’t bounce the way it needed to. But I respect that program (La Salle). It’s an unbelievable staff from the top down and all their kids are exceptional. I don’t like losing, but I don’t mind losing to that program at all. I look forward to battling with them year-in and year-out.”
St. Joe’s Prep seized a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Ian Correia and Colin Fleming. Hopkins made it 2-1 with 2:32 to play in the first quarter, but Cory Scheuerle made it 3-1 early in the second quarter.
Jack Bogorowski drew the Explorers within 3-2 and then early in the third quarter Peter Schwartz tied it at 3-3 before Hopkins put in the final tally with 39 seconds left in the stanza.
Hopkins compared the game to last year’s Catholic League finale when The Prep had a two-goal lead in the second half before la Salle rallied for a 6-5 win.
“I think this team (St. Joe’s Prep) came out ready to show the rest of the state they had something to prove,” Hopkins said. “We came out in the second half and it kind of reminded us of the game last year when we were down. Again, we were able to come back.”
Fleming said the Hawks are not bitter that they don’t get to go to states, but have the knowledge they could play with anyone.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better game,” he said. “We hit two posts in the last 40 seconds. That’s what we’ve trained for; one little inch too short.
“Ever since we played them last time, the score of the game, 16-6, has been the theme of each of our practices. We’ve been working hard towards it; everyone played hard and worked hard – it’s just hard to take.”
La Salle 4, St. Joseph’s Prep 3
La Salle 1-1-2-0 – 4
St. Joseph’s Prep 2-1-0-0 – 3
La Salle scoring: Westy Hopkins 2, Jack Bogorowski 1, Peter Schwartz 1.
St. Joseph’s Prep scoring: Ian Correia 1, Colin Fleming 1, Cory Scheuerle 1.
Saves: Niko Amato (L) 7, Mike Zikoski (SJP) 9.