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La Salle suffocates Conestoga in battle of nationally ranked teams

TREDYFFRIN >> Tuesday’s top-20 national boys lacrosse matchup at Teamer Field had an awful lot to do with opposing styles.

And after Catholic League behemoth La Salle took it to District 1 power Conestoga, 12-5, Explorers’ head coach Bill Leahy likened it to different elongated, legless, carnivorous reptiles. You know: snakes.

[FOR A SLIDESHOW FROM TUESDAY’S GAME, CLICK HERE]

“We like our style and the game has to go our style,” he said. “I would compare it to a boa constrictor.

“(Conestoga is) like a rattlesnake. If they get out of the barn and start zooming around, we would have been in trouble.”

Ranked 15th in the nation by USLAXMagazine.com, La Salle (5-1 overall) likes to employ steady pressure and eventually suffocate its opponent into submission. It’s a completely different strategy for the deep and speedy Pioneers (7-1 overall), ranked 20th nationally.

“We try to get a 2-3 goal and then try to hold it, make smart decisions, and then just keep tightening as we go,” Leahy explained. “We don’t want to play fast, we want to play smart.”

And the Explorers went out and made sure that was pretty much how it played out, just like they did a week earlier against talented Malvern Prep. La Salle’s face-off specialist Anthony Giuliani won 19 of 22 on the day and it helped his team score five of the first six goals. And once they got ’Stoga playing catch-up mode, the Explorers were able to dictate the all-important style of play.

“We won face-offs, we valued the ball and we were efficient in our shooting,” Leahy said.

“We are deep and we play fast,” added Pioneers’ head coach Brody Bush. “(La Salle) carried the day at the face-off X. They had the ball the majority of the game and it was hard for us to get any momentum.”

Taking the “be quick but not in a hurry” mantra to heart, the methodical Explorers scored seven of eight goals in one stretch to open a commanding 8-2 lead early in the second half. And the overall star was senior attacker Brett Baskin, who finished with a game-high five goals and added two assists.

“We talked before the game about coming out hot, stepping on our opponent right away and not letting them have the momentum,” Baskin said.

“And in this game, unlike a few other games we’ve had, we put them away and that’s a good step for us.”

The two sides exchanged early goals, but La Salle broke it open soon thereafter with four in a row, included three by Baskin. The first, late in the opening quarter, came on a pass from Giuliani; the second was unassisted; and the third was after taking a pass from teammate Matthew Clibanoff with 3:33 remaining in the first half.

’Stoga called a timeout, and moments later capitalized on an uncharacteristic La Salle turnover deep in its own end, which led to a Tommy Sopko goal on a quick-hitter. But just when it looked like the Pioneers were gaining momentum, the Explorers scored a pair in the final 1:33 courtesy of Clibanoff and Brendan Meager, who notched his second tally of the half with just 35 seconds on the clock.

Down by six, Conestoga’s Hunter Gregory and Henry Berg each scored in a 67-second stretch midway through the third period, but La Salle finished strong. With Giuliani winning face offs and Baskin adding two more goals and an assist, the Explorers won it going away.

“(Giulaini) has been awesome for us all season,” Leahy said. “He gets us the ball and that allows the boa constrictor to work.

“And lot of our off-ball play comes from (Baskin), and for teenage boys to learn to play off the ball is tough,” he added.

Gregory led the Pioneers – the top-ranked team in District 1 by LaxPower — with two goals and goalie Scott MacMillian registered 10 saves.

“Conestoga is a good team. We will probably see them again down the road,” Baskin said.

“It’s better to lose now than in May or June,” Bush added. “We are young. We only have five seniors, and I felt like our youth showed a bit. But we will learn from this.”

La Salle 12, Conestoga 5
La Salle    2    5    3    2 – 12
Conestoga    1    1    2    1 – 5
La Salle goals: Baskin 5, Hladczuk 2, Ma. Clibanoff 2, Meager 2, Taylor.
Conestoga goals: Gregory 2, Berg, Sopko, Braendel.
Goalie saves: Mi. Clibanoff (L) 9, MacMillian (C) 10.

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