By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/8/19
La Salle senior Zac Coar said he challenged his teammates to find their “inner dog” this year when many doubted the Explorers could return to the state championship.
“Not being the favorite actually helped us out a lot more,” Coar said. “We came in hungry and we came in anxious! I have been saying to the team since Day 1: ‘Find that inner dog and just go out there and do it’ – and we did it.”
Behind a cast clearly not as heralded as teams in the past, La Salle indeed found its dogged aggression and claimed a 7-5 victory today over Conestoga in the PIAA Class AAA title game at West Chester East.
The PIAA crown was the third for the Explorers (22-5), who also won it in 2009 and 2013. La Salle had fallen in the 2010 and 2012 title games and also in the 2016 final (the last one with one state classification) and last year in the 2018 title game to Manheim Township. La Salle also won Keystone Cup state titles (before the sport was sanctioned by the PIAA) in 2004 and 2008.
Last year’s team had a number of high Division 1 recruits. This team also has its share, but the Explorers were not a favorite to win a state title to many.
But La Salle – which rallied from a 6-goal, fourth-quarter deficit to topple Garnet Valley in the semifinals – recovered from a 3-goal run today that helped the Pioneers (21-4) forge a 5-5 tie with 4:30 to play. Coar himself, got the game-winner, his third of the game, with 1:30 to play.
“We took every game like ‘This is the championship’ and we have to win one game four times,” said Coar. “That’s what coach (Bill) Leahy and Coach (Tony) Resch said from Day 1. We took that attitude and won them one game at a time.”
After Coar’s game-winner, junior Danny Mallee – who had the game-winner against Garnet Valley – clinched it with a tally with 25.6 seconds to play.
“It’s unbelievable; I really can’t put it into words right now,” Mallee said. “Coming into the season we knew we had good senior leaders and a good core group. Our goal coming in was to win a state championship and we always believed.
“We just regrouped (after Conestoga tied the game 5-5). Coach Leahy told us the game plan – (faceoff man) John Giuliani had a great game we knew we’d get the ball eventually – and then Zac Coar took it strong like he did all day and we got the goal.”
La Salle had seized control of the game in the first half by scoring four unanswered goals to take a 4-1 lead by halftime.
“I am so proud of the guys; it’s cool to see it all come together,” said senior Shane Osborne, responding to the notion that La Salle was not an early state favorite. “It’s funny you say that! A lot of people didn’t believe in us and never thought we could get here and win this thing.
“It’s been kind of my theme to bring this up – in all seriousness, we have been telling the guys to believe in yourselves and believe in each other. That’s really paid off and the reason why we’re here.”
There were many other keys to the La Salle title win. Senior Christian Suter had six saves in goal and Giuliani was strong at the faceoff X. Rob Foster and Christopher Mockaitis also scored and the La Salle defense, led by Brett Mallee, Kurt Wessner, Chase Rondeau, Ben Rivera and Griffin Zobel stymied Conestoga much of the game.
“We’ve worked our tails off and we wanted it – we simply wanted it,” said Wessner, a senior. “I was telling them (his teammates) throughout the playoffs that every game is a Super Bowl.
“I told them nothing in life is given to you. You have to fight for it. And you can’t get down on yourself. I’ve been playing with some of these guys a long time – some since I started playing and I am really happy to get this done with them.”
Conestoga started its comeback after Mockaitis made it 5-2 early in the fourth period. First, Brendan Murphy scored and then Julian Grove with 7:43 to play. Then, Scott Smith scored with a long pole to tie it with 4:30 to play.
“We looked around at each other and we knew we had beaten this team once (10-7 in the regular season) and that we could do it again,” said Conestoga senior faceoff specialist and tri-captain PJ Hewitt. “They (the Explorers) had just come back from a six-goal deficit against Garnet so we knew we could do the same.
“We started our run, but just came up a little short today. We lost so many seniors from last year and everyone counted us out, especially after we lost 10-0 to ANC (Academy of the New Church). Then we went on a 14-game win streak, but to get one game short hurts. Still, it was a heck of a season.”
“This is one of the grittiest teams I have ever coached,” said Conestoga coach Brody Bush. “They do not go away; every game has been a battle. We didn’t get fazed by the deficit.
“But give them (the Explorers) credit where credit is due. They played the game we wanted to play in the first half and its tough to come back from a deficit like that.
“For a young team I didn’t know what to expect of us in preseason, when we had graduated 20 seniors and our top seven middies. We are young; the future is bright. Our defense was fantastic all season, we held almost every team to seven goals or less. We held this team to seven goals, but it wasn’t enough to win.
Will Schnorr added two goals for the Pioneers and Mick Lee had 10 saves in a strong performance in goal.
Leahy – who went over 500 career wins this year – said this one was one of the sweetest wins yet.
“We (the coaches) told the guys in the beginning of the season that we would discuss what we thought they could accomplish once we got to May,” he said. “Maybe it meant being Catholic League champs and no more. But by May, we told them we could do more than that – who would have thought?”
PIAA Class AAA championship
La Salle 7, Conestoga 5
La Salle 2-2-0-3- 7
Conestoga 1-0-1-3- 5
Zac Coar 3g
Rob Foster 1g
Shane Osborne 1g
Christopher Mockaitis 1g
Danny Mallee 1g, 1a
Christian Suter 6 saves
Will Schnorr 2g
Scott Smith 1g
Julian Grove 1g
Brandan Murphy 1g, 1a
Mick Lee 10 saves