EXETER TWP. >> Shane Cassel flung his body to the turf, sliding forward as the end of his lacrosse stick poked the ball over the halfway line where Rob Foster scooped it up.
Fatigued and tired, Cassel was so in the moment he didn’t realize the magnitude of the play he made with about a minute left in Saturday night’s PIAA 3A boys lacrosse quarterfinal game against Parkland. His teammates sure did, as the bench exploded in a raucous cheer. It was one play, but the all-out effort Cassel showed really summed up a night where it took everything the Explorers had.
Thanks to a resolute defense and methodical offense, plus a lot of guys playing themselves to exhaustion, La Salle topped Parkland 6-3 at Exeter Township High School, securing a state semifinal date with Conestoga on Tuesday.
“I just really wanted this game for us, I trusted my brothers and they trusted in me,” Cassel said. “I did my job, we all wanted to win and get another day with each other so I just did an extra part to try and get us to that win.”
Parkland, which took down Upper Dublin in the first round of the state tournament, was a considerable challenge to La Salle on both ends of the field. Offensively, the Trojans featured a very potent attack that brought out maximum effort from the Explorers defensive unit.
On the defensive end, facing extend La Salle possession after extended La Salle possession, the Trojans stood their ground and didn’t give an inch of turf easily. It all added up to a task that required more than just one or two players rising to the occasion.
“Usually, there’s a certain guy that will stand out in a game but today, our coaches were saying it was everyone,” senior defenseman Bobby Bohner said. “We were all inspired and working hard and we got the job done.”
Brendan Meagher scored the first two goals for La Salle, Matthew Clibanoff added another and the Explorers led 3-1 at the end of the first quarter using patient offensive possessions. Ethan Masucci and Ethan LaMond added second quarter goals to hand La Salle a 5-2 halftime advantage.
After the break, things turned over to the defense as Parkland was able to shore some things up, goalie James Xavier McLaughlin made some big stops and La Salle wasn’t able to put away the same chances it had in the first half.
The defense, led by senior goalie Michael Clibanoff, was up to the task. Clibanoff was terrific in net, making 10 stops including two crucial saves on back-to-back shots in the same Parkland possession with about four minutes and change left in the game.
“I saw so much heart and passion throughout all the defense in front of me,” Clibanoff said. “They’re they best guys, they want to win, they want to beat everyone and they want me to face easy shots, which is all I can ask for.
“It took my focus and determination. That’s what I play with.”
It was a long day for La Salle’s seniors, who had their commencement ceremonies in the morning, then had to wait out a weather-delayed game between Garnet Valley and Cumberland Valley before finally taking the field. Originally scheduled for a 7:30 start, the Explorers didn’t hit the field until about 9 with the game starting about 15 minutes later.
There was no sign the delay had any effect on either team and Michael Clibanoff said the Explorers stayed loose by watching some of the previous game and hanging back in the locker room.
La Salle’s defense held Parkland silent for nearly 26 minutes of game time, conceding a goal with 7:01 left in the second quarter and not again until 7:40 remained in the final period.
“They’re really good and have a lot of athletic, freestyling guys that will whip it around the field so the idea was to never let their horses get out of the barn,” La Salle coach Bill Leahy said. “It was almost victory by constriction, long possessions, valuing the ball, good shots in the first half.”
Cassel, a short-stick defensive midfielder, said he was able to make that late play because the bench was able to back him up. It didn’t matter which La Salle players were on the field, the idea was the same. Once they stepped over the line, it was all in, all out until it was time to come off the field.
Blake Rondeau forced the ball loose prior to Cassel’s diving play, Bohner had a huge check that led to a Clibanoff save in the third quarter and defenseman Joe Burnham was able to cause a late fourth-quarter turnover following the back-to-back stops by Clibanoff.
“I just trusted my brothers to be honest,” Cassel said. “It’s unreal, I can’t wait to have another game with my brothers. I love every moment of it and just don’t want it to end.”
Foster scored the game’s final goal, which came about a minute after Parkland made it a 5-3 game, capping off a solid game on attack for him and giving La Salle some fire and energy to finish off the win.
After being ousted in the state quarterfinals last year in a shocking upset, the Explorers came together this year with a more workman mentality. Bohner said this year’s group, while talented, is more reliant on its hard-working mentality and thinks that’s what defines the team.
“It just makes me smile, I’m so happy,” Clibanoff said. “It shows this isn’t a one-man show and everyone wants to join as one with all our strentghs and win as a group.”
La Salle beat Conestoga earlier this season, but none of the Explorers put much stock in that game and said they’re expecting a much different and much stronger Pioneers side on Tuesday. The fact they get to hit the practice field and prepare for that challenge had the Explorers pretty fired up on Saturday.
Bohner began his day by giving the salutatorian speech at La Salle’s commencement and ended it with one of the most special wins in his athletic career.
“I’ll remember this day for a while,” the Lafayette-bound senior said. “Just a great day with my brothers, glad we got the win and can keep the train rolling.”
LA SALLE 6, PARKLAND 3
LA SALLE 3 2 0 1 – 6
PARKLAND 1 1 0 1 – 3
Goals-Assists: L – Rob Foster 1-2, Brendan Meagher 2-0, Ethan LaMond 1-0, Ethan Masucci 1-0, Matthew Clibanoff 1-0; P Summers 1-0, Albertson 1-0, Groff 1-0. Saves: L – Michael Clibanoff 10, Laughlin 5.
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