MECHANICSBURG >> No team from outside of the Philadelphia metropolitan area has ever played in a state lacrosse title game, and Conestoga kept that streak alive on Tuesday with an overpowering 13-3 triumph over Mount Lebanon in the semifinals of the PIAA Class 3A Tournament at Toyota Field in Mechanicsburg.
The reigning District 1 champs were rock-solid defensively and had too much offensive firepower for the Blue Devils, the District 7 runner-up. Now 22-3 overall, Conestoga advances to Saturday’s final to face cross-county rival Avon Grove, 4 p.m., at West Chester East.
“We feel good,” said ’Stoga head coach Brody Bush. “I am confident as long as our guys are focused. This is a very determined team. They trust the system and they respond well to their coaches.
“I love coaching this team.”
A balanced and deadly attack yielded 21 shots on goal for the Pioneers. And it could have been even worse if ’Stoga hadn’t clanged four additional shots off the cage.
“It was going to be tough for us to win by attrition. (Conestoga) kept coming in waves and it took a toll,” said Mt. Lebanon head coach Mike Ermer.
“Most of our big wins come from our depth,” added Pioneers’ junior midfielder Nick Cost. “We have so many fresh legs and there is no let-up.”
And defensively, ’Stoga held the Blue Devils (13-10 overall) to just one goal in the final 37-plus minutes of action.
“We are slowly progressing and getting better with each game,” said junior midfielder Nick Braendel, who scored twice and added an assist.
“We are clicking on all cylinders right now,” Cost added. “We are moving the ball well and playing good team defense. It feels like we are peaking. We will be ready (Saturday).”
Continuing an impressive postseason trend, junior specialist James Reilly was dominant from the face-off circle, winning 14 of 18, and enabling the Pioneers to monopolize possession time once again. He won eight of nine in the first half alone as ’Stoga built a three goal lead.
“Conestoga’s face off guy is great,” Ermer said.
The Pioneers struck first with two goals in a 20-second span early going, but the Blue Devils came back to tie it at the end of the period.
“(Mt. Lebanon) had some big athletes,” Bush pointed out. “After the first quarter, we told our guys to compose themselves. We were playing like we were too excited to be here, and I think we did a good job bringing the composure back.”
The second quarter was pivotal as ’Stoga added three more goals and held Mt. Lebanon scoreless. Tommy Sopko and Braendel each had a goal and an assist to make it 5-2 at the break.
“Make no mistake, Conestoga is an excellent team,” Ermey said. “Our goal was to hang in there as much as we could. I think, maybe, they overlooked us a little bit in the beginning. But they did a great job of making a few adjustments and we had a tough time matching up with their attackers.”
The Pioneers then took command in the second half, outscoring Mt. Lebanon 8-1. Sopko and Henry Berg each finished with two goals and Sean Bailey chipped in a goal and an assist.
“We were playing very fast in the offensive zone. And once they would try to press out on us, we would use that to our advantage,” explained Braendel.
“(Mt. Lebanon) was being very aggressive, and it’s hard to play that way for four quarters,” Bush added. “We stayed with our game plan and I think they got a little tired.”
Conestoga will be making its first state title appearance since 2013. The Pioneers were the defending state champs but dropped that one to La Salle.
“I think about all of the hard work we put in through the off-season,” Cost said. “We did this training method called ‘Top-Speed’ and we were working so hard a lot of the guys were throwing up.
“It’s awesome to see all of it paying off.”
Conestoga and Avon Grove met in the District 1 3A title game, and the Pioneers came away with a 14-12 thriller.
Conestoga 13, Mt. Lebanon 3
Mt. Lebanon 2 0 1 0 — 3
Conestoga 2 3 4 3 — 13
Mt. Lebanon goals: Sramac, McMullen, Brumfield.
Conestoga goals: Walton, Sopko 2, Mullen, Braendel 3, Madden, Berg 2, Hjelm, Schnoor, Bailey.
Goalie saves: Welch (ML) 8; MacMillan (C) 12.
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