Tradition in the PIAA, particularly in lacrosse, dictates that the champion of District 1 be placed atop the bracket, a geographical and numerical coincidence that nonetheless confers a certain favorite status.
But cast your gaze a little lower in this year’s bracket and you’ll hone in on the team that could arguably be installed as the favorite.
Archbishop Carroll enters the tournament as the District 12 champion, toting a 20-1 record. The lone setback came at the hands of Agnes Irwin, the Inter-Ac runner-up and PAISAA champion.
Excise that result and a win over Notre Dame from their record, and Carroll boasts a 19-0 mark against PIAA opposition.
That puts a sizeable target on the Patriots when they kick off the PIAA Class 3A tournament Tuesday against District 1 fifth-place team Strath Haven at 6 p.m. at Northeast High in Philadelphia.
Carroll’s record includes a slew of victories against its top postseason competitors. The Patriots bested District 1 champ Conestoga, 11-6, just before the playoffs, giving the Pioneers their only loss to Pennsylvania opposition.
Carroll also topped District 1 fourth-place team Garnet Valley, 18-12, at the Katie Samson Lacrosse Festival in late April, and District 1 runner-up Springfield, 10-9.
That consistency of results bodes well for the Patriots. Should the favorites prevail, Carroll could be looking at a showdown with Conestoga in the nominal Eastern final with the possibility of Springfield traveling the “western” route to the final June 10.
The first step on that pathway is no gimme, though. Strath Haven (16-6) has struggled to post results against the Central League’s elite, but it’s come pretty close. Half of the Panthers’ losses — to Garnet valley, Springfield and in overtime to Conestoga — have been by one goal, all on the road.
Also in the Class 3A tournament:
1-2 Springfield vs. 3-3 Exeter, Penncrest, 5:15
The Cougars (17-4) will be licking their wounds after a 12-8 setback to Conestoga in the District 1 final. The Pioneers account for half of Springfield’s defeats this season, each by four-goal margins; the other two were matching 10-9 decisions to Carroll and Villa Maria, the latter in overtime.
Springfield’s consolation for the loss to Conestoga is the less congested westerly path through states. The winner Tuesday would get the survivor of Pine Richland-Manheim Township in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
Exeter (17-5) is an intriguing team not to be taken lightly. For one, the record looks a mite more impressive at 17-2 if you exclude three losses to District 3 champ Wilson. They also trailed Governor Mifflin by two goals with 18 seconds to play in the District 3 third-place game before forcing overtime and winning on Maryn Hubiak’s marker.
11-1 Parkland vs. 1-4 Garnet Valley, Northampton, 5:30
No matter what the record or seed indicates, this is the time of year that Garnet Valley (16-7) comes alive. The four-time PIAA champs are renowned for their ability to peak in states. While they enter states off two consecutive losses in districts, that stretch interrupted a run of seven wins in eight games. The Jags have been streaky this year — the 16 wins accumulated in spurts of five, four (twice) and three, the lightning in a bottle that a title aspirant must catch in the postseason.
Parkland (19-4) is no slouch, entering the postseason among the hottest teams in the state with 12 straight wins. The Trojans were trounced by Springfield, 15-6, in the season-opener, but plenty of lacrosse has happened since then. To the resilience argument, the Trojans lost to Emmaus by one goal April 8 and have since beaten their District 11 rivals three times.
In the Class 2A tournament:
1-1 Radnor vs. 3-3 York Catholic, Spring-Ford, 5
The Raiders (15-7) are the clear favorite in the tournament after their demolition of the District 1 field, waltzing to the title by a combined score of 59-12. Both Julianne Puckette (17 goals, three assists) and Cate Cox (six goals, 12 assists) outscored the opposition single-handedly. With the placement of one District 1 team in each of the four games in the top half of the bracket, states could prove a reprise of the Raiders’ domination.
First, though, they’ll have to get through York (16-4-1), which won 13 straight games by lopsided scores in the middle of the season before a less comfortable 3-2 slog thought the postseason. A 17-5 banishing of Hershey was required to book a place in states.
12-1 Cardinal O’Hara vs. 1-4 Gwynedd Mercy, Northeast H.S., 4
The Lions (13-6) played a clear second fiddle to Carroll in the Catholic League this year. An 11-1 start has plummeted back to earth in a 2-5 finish to the regular season once the early ease of the Catholic League bled into a more challenging nonleague slate. O’Hara gained entry to states via a 19-0 drubbing of Mastery Charter in the District 12 final.
Gwynedd Mercy (15-6) has lost back-to-back games in districts, backing into states after being routed by Villa Maria and Bishop Shanahan. Their only postseason win came over Penncrest.