By Matt Chandik
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/22/17
There’s a lot of talk out there that La Salle is the favorite for the inaugural PIAA Class AAA championship.
It’s hard not to like the Explorers’ chances. They’ve staked their claim as the team to beat with nonleague wins over Inter-Ac champion Haverford School, as well as Malvern Prep and Central League co-champion Conestoga. La Salle’s roster is flush with talent with Division I commits at every level, and coach Bill Leahy has taken his team to the state final in six of the last nine years (three titles).
The Explorers offered plenty of evidence for their candidacy Monday, when they hammered rival St. Joseph’s Prep, 13-3, in the Catholic League championship game. Seven players scored goals, led by matching three-goal, two-assist days from Brett Baskin and Joey Taylor, and Anthony Giuliani won 11 of 19 faceoffs. There’s a lot to like about the Explorers’ skill and depth.
Just don’t bother trying to tell them any of that.
“At La Salle, we just call it noise,” said midfielder Brendan Meagher, who tallied once for the Explorers. “That’s all it is at the end of the day, it’s just noise. We focus on our locker room, what we can do on the field and at practice and everything else is just noise to us. We try to block that stuff out as much as we can.”
La Salle has won two straight Catholic League titles and 21 in the 25 years of the league, all under Leahy. The Explorers play Gratz, the No. 2 Public League AAA team for a District 12 berth (no official title game is being played) Wednesday at Northeast at 6 p.m. The Prep (11-9) also can qualify for the PIAA tourney with a win over Central, the top Public AAA team at 4 p.m. at Northeast.
La Salle ended the game on a 13-0 run after spotting the Hawks an early 3-0 lead on goals from Jake Goss, Finn Monahan and Pat Boyd. Upset-minded Prep was fired up beyond belief as it thought it had the Explorers on the ropes.
As it turns out, La Salle was just getting warmed up. Leahy called timeout, not-so-subtly let his team know that it wasn’t playing up to its lofty standards, and it took the Explorers all of 4:25 to supply all the offense it needed.
“Obviously, that’s not how we really wanted to start,” Meagher said. “I think this team is really disciplined compared to last year. We all know what happened at the end of last year, and we’ve got some great seniors that never let us get down and kept us up. Coach Leahy wasn’t happy, but at the end of the day, we know he loves us and it was out of love.”
The Hawks simply couldn’t break through La Salle’s stingy defense. Led by the likes of Joe Burnham and Luke Sabia, the Explorers were simply too quick and slid too well, and if things did break down, standout goalie Michael Clibanoff was there with seven saves.
On the flip side, La Salle (19-1) just had too many offensive threats for Prep to counter.
“Usually, teams have one or two shooters, but these guys, they can all bring the heat,” said Prep goalie Nick Cissone, who stopped 12 shots. “They can all shoot and they know how to play so well. They’ve been playing together for a while and they know how to get open for each other. It’s like they’ve got eyes in the back of their heads.”
There were early signs that this La Salle team had potential, but it took a humbling for the Explorers to realize how good they could be. Their lone loss was a 12-2 early-season shellacking at the hands of mighty Hill Academy (Ont.), and it served the purpose of bringing La Salle down a peg.
“It was kind of a realty check,” Taylor said. “We thought we were kind of hot going into the season, but after that game, we knew that we really had to work it out.
“After that, we got ourselves together and worked on everything as a team at practice. We just worked really hard and I think we earned it this season, more than having it just given to us.”
That certainly doesn’t bode well for anyone who has to face the Explorers in the state tournament.
St. Joseph’s Prep
Jake Goss 1g
Finn Monahan 1g, 1a
Pat Boyd 1g
Nick Cissone 12 saves
Brett Baskin 3g, 2a
Joey Taylor 3g, 2a
Matt Clibanoff 2g
Chris Hladczuk 2g, 1a
Ethan LaMond 1g, 2a
Ethan Masucci 1g, 1a
Brendan Meagher 1g
Michael Clibanoff 7 saves
Anthony Giuliani 11-for-19 faceoffs
Catholic League Boys’ Champions
1993 – La Salle 7, Bishop Egan 6
1994 – Archbishop Carroll 5, La Salle 3
1995 – La Salle 10, Monsignor Bonner 4
1996 – La Salle 16, Archbishop Carroll 7
1997 – La Salle 20, Archbishop Carroll 6
1998 – La Salle 8, Archbishop Carroll 6
1999 – La Salle 7, St. Joseph’s Prep 5
2000- La Salle 12, St. Joseph’s Prep 11 (OT)
2001 – La Salle 8, Archbishop Ryan 5
2002- La Salle 9, St. Joseph’s Prep 6
2003- St. Joseph’s Prep 9, La Salle 7
2004- La Salle 12, St. Joseph’s Prep 3
2005- La Salle 13, St. Joseph’s Prep 2
2006- La Salle 10, St. Joseph’s Prep 7
2007- La Salle 10, St. Joseph’s Prep 4
2008 – La Salle 6, St. Joseph’s Prep 5
2009 – La Salle 4, St. Joseph’s Prep 3
2010 – La Salle 7, St. Joseph’s Prep 5
2011 – St. Joseph’s Prep 8, La Salle 6
2012 – La Salle 8, St. Joseph’s Prep 7
2013 – La Salle 11, St. Joseph’s Prep 6
2014 – La Salle 8, St. Joseph’s Prep 7
2015 – St. Joseph’s Prep 12, La Salle 10
2016 – La Salle 9, St. Joseph’s Prep 5
2017 – La Salle 13, St. Joseph’s Prep 3