By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/9/18
In a stunning upset, Manheim Township defeated La Salle, 6-4, today to win the PIAA Class AAA boys’ lacrosse championship, becoming the first team from out of the Philadelphia region to win a state title.
The District 3 champion Blue Streaks (26-1) used a strong defense and clutch goaltending by Caton Johnson (11 saves) as well as a patient and efficient attack to prevent the Explorers from winning their third PIAA crown since the state sanctioned lacrosse in 2009.
The Pennsylvania Lacrosse Association held state boys’ finals (East champ vs. Central/West champ) from 2000-2008, and never had a team from outside of the five-county area won a boys’ crown or a girls’ title (no girls’ state tourney was held until the PIAA sanctioned the sport). Manheim Township had fallen in the Keystone Cup to La Salle in 2008, the final year of the touney – and to Malvern Prep in 2006.
This time, Manheim Township broke open a 2-2 game in the second period on goals by Grayson Sallade (two goals) and Zach Diamond and after Matt Clibanoff made it 4-3 in the third period Bryce Hutchinson made it 5-3 early in the fourth. Ethan LaMond got the Explorers (20-5) within 5-4 with 3:40 to play, but Sallade picked up a groundball after an apparent La Salle steal in the Explorers’ crease area and converted with 2:45 to play.
The rest featured Manheim All-American goalie Johnson and a stingy Blue Streaks defense, which never gave La Salle much room.
Brendan Meagher had two goals for the Explorers, who also fell in the 2009, 2013 and 2016 final (when it was one class) and won the 2009 and 2013 crowns.
“This is unreal, I’m speechless,” said Johnson. “Four years, we’ve been saying this was going to happen. No one believed it but us. (They said) we’re just a team from Central PA. We are the state champions, we are the state champions!
“We didn’t get this handed it us. We’ve worked long and hard, long and hard for this. I am so proud of these guys. It was a team effort; everyone bought in and now we are state champions, the first time in Township history.”
Johnson said his team never listened to the critics who believed a District 3 team could not defeat the perennial Philly power.
“When a team believes in themselves it doesn’t matter what everyone else believes,” he said. “We believed in each other; that is all that matters. You can’t stop a team that believes in itself. This is for all the people that put in the work to grow this program; everyone that came before us. the coaching staff and everybody on this team.”
Sallade – who like Johnson and many others on Manheim’s team have played club lacrosse in Philly, with several La Salle players – said the Blue Streaks knew they would be state contenders.
“We knew it could happen, but for us to be actually here at this moment, I am trying to soak it in all,” he said. “All this hard work has paid off. If you go back to the last game last year, Caton Johnson said if we put in the work in the off season we’ll be state contenders next season. And it’s finally here!”
Sallade said the Streaks did not make any major changes to prepare for La Salle.
“We always talked about what got us here, we didn’t want to change our offense so we stuck with what we do,” he said “In the first quarter we weren’t landing our shots, but the opportunities were there so we knew we just had to keep shooting and eventually they would fall.”
Sallade also answered the question of whether Manheim Township’s win was an upset.
“High school sports comes down to grit, preparation, will and want-to,” he said. “Obviously a lot of talent helps, but in high school if you have that grit and want-to, it goes a long way.”
“Our senior class, this whole team, this entire program deserves this,” he said. “We worked way too hard to not get in the state championship. Look at this, we won it – we beat the powerhouse La Salle.
“Our motto is ‘Refuse to lose!’ We don’t back down from anyone.”
The Manheim defense was led by Johnson, defensemen Kyle Lando, Dan Klotz, Cameron Chambers, LSMs Ben Mann and Tristan Kruse and short-stick midfielders Will Hurley and George Hetrick.
“Our coaches get all the credit,” said Diamond. “We had a 2-hour film session and we knew they offense inside and out. On offense we knew we could beat them 1-on-1. With our plays, we knew we could get this win.”
Manheim Coach Dan Lyons said his team’s preparation for the final was the key.
“We knew they would play a slower game, work possessions and look for great shots,” he said “We tried to identify what shots they would be and have a plan to defend them and not let them get those shots.
“Our guys executed. Our scout offense did a great job preparing our defense. It won’t show up in the scorebook, but they were so important.”
La Salle’s Meagher credited Manheim Township.
“I think we tried to come out hot but Manheim did a great job of controlling the tempo and they did not let us get too much momentum,” he said. “They played a great game. Caton had an awesome day and they did a great job valuing the ball and valuing every possession. We thought they would play it fast, but they slowed it down and had a great game.”
Meagher said he will still look at the season as a success for many reasons.
“I guess since we didn’t end up where we wanted, we will look at this season (and think) about about the journey, about us being closer as teammates and having friends for life,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t have the destination we wanted, but at the end of the day we’ll have the memories of each other.”
Manheim Twp. 1 1 2 2 — 6
La Salle 1 1 1 1 — 4
Grayson Sallade 2g
Eddie Newman 2g
Zach Diamond 1g
Bryce Hutchinson 1g
Sean Curcio 2a
Caton Johnson 11 saves
Brendan Meagher 2g
Matt Clibanoff 1g
Ethan LaMond 1g
Rob Foster 1a
Joey Taylor 1a
Michael Clibanoff 5 saves