WHITEMARSH >> La Salle’s coaches call it the boa constrictor.
It’s meant to depict how the Explorers’ hybrid offense slowly sucks the energy and life out of a defense before crushing it with a goal that can come from anywhere. It’s a unique style, blending bits of Canadian and American lacrosse.
But it only works when La Salle actually has the ball.
At the start of Monday’s night Philadelphia Catholic League championship game, the top-seeded Explorers kept turning the ball over and Saint Joseph’s Prep took advantage. Then La Salle settled down, got the ball back and the boa constrictor made its appearance.
La Salle scored 13 straight goals and shut out the Hawks over the final 44 minutes en route to a 13-3 win and its second straight Catholic League title.
“We just did what we’ve practiced all year, got in our different sets, got our different looks and we executed,” La Salle senior attackman Brett Baskin said. “We have a ton of different looks so if one’s not working, we can go to another one. That’s all on our coaches having us prepared.”
The reason the Explorers didn’t have the ball to start was because they kept turning it over and giving the Hawks easy transition opportunities. Within the first four minutes of the game, the Explorers had three giveaways in their own end and The Prep had scored three goals.
After the third, which came with 8:57 left in the first, La Salle called a timeout to settle things down.
“We were a little to energetic,” La Salle junior defenseman Joseph Burnham said. “That kind of led to us playing not as smart as we normally would, the intensity was there but we weren’t there with our minds. Basically, they just told us to calm it down and do what we’ve been doing.”
The start mirrored one the Explorers had against St. Augustine Prep last week, so coach Bill Leahy felt like his team knew how to handle it.
In that timeout, Burnham knew he was one of the guys who had to better channel his energy.
“I made a couple of bad passes early on and they both led to goals so I had to calm it down,” Burnham said. “My coach told me to take a couple deep breaths and that’s exactly what I did. I knew my guys would help me get back into it and they all had my back.”
Burnham recovered well, causing four turnovers with two ground balls as the Explorers defense completely shut down The Prep after the timeout. It was also time for the offense to go to work.
On their first real possession of the game, sophomore Joe Taylor found Baskin for a goal, setting off a tidal wave that completely turned the flow of momentum. La Salle scored six goals in eight minutes and closed the first quarter with a 6-3 lead.
Taylor, who finished with a hat trick and two assists, scored his first goal with 7:42 left in the second, making it seven goals from seven different Explorer scorers. Taylor added his second goal in the second frame as La Salle took an 8-3 lead at the break.
“We threw it away three times clearing and that’s where they got their goals,” Leahy said. “We really spread the ball out. We do a lot of different things, it’s a hybrid, we have some two-man Canadian game, some American game. It’s been a real gift for our offense and the guys like it.”
La Salle was very methodical after its scoring spree to close the first quarter. The Explorers peppered the Prep goal all game, putting 28 shots on target but Prep goalie Nick Cissone stood up as best he could. Cissone, a senior and first-team All-Catholic pick, made 13 stops in the game.
The Explorers didn’t score every time they had the ball, but they kept putting balls in the net at a consistent clip and with the Hawks shut down on the other end, it was their game to control.
“When it was chaotic early, we had left a lot of guys wide open and that’s the only way they were scoring,” Burnham said. “Once we got down to business and do what we normally do, which is play good one-on-one defense, our defense worked out well.”
“Everyone can get it done for us, we don’t have that one guy who’s just going to go and score,” Baskin said. “We share the ball and when we play together, we play well. We know we can get our looks whenever we want and it’s about not forcing them, playing smart and moving it to the next guy.”
La Salle will next play in the District 12 AAA title game, and after that, the state tournament. After falling in the state final last year, the Explorers’ focus is on that bit of unfinished business.
It was important to the seniors like Baskin to win their final PCL game and it let them turn their attention to closing out their careers with a state title to go with it.
“This isn’t our end goal for the season,” Baskin said. “We’re going to keep working.”
La Salle 13, St. Joseph’s Prep 13
St. Joseph’s Prep 3 0 0 0 – 3
La Salle 6 2 2 3 – 13
Goals-Assists: SJP – Jake Goss 1-0, Finn Monahan 1-1, Pat Boyd 1-0; L – Brett Baskin 3-2, Joe Taylor 3-2, Matt Clibanoff 2-0, Chris Hladczuk 2-2, Ethan LaMond 1-2, Ethan Masucci 1-1, Brendan Meagher 1-0.
Top Photo: Members of the La Salle lacrosse team emerge from an on-field huddle in which, while the clock is running, they discuss the next play during the PCL Championship against St. Joseph’s Prep on Monday, May 22, 2017. (Rachel Wisniewski/For Digital First Media)