MECHANICSBURG >> They’ve been playing boys’ lacrosse at West Chester Henderson for nearly a half-century, and for just the third time the Warriors are headed to the state title game.
Henderson overcame an early deficit against a high-octane foe on Tuesday and eventually pulled away for 20-9 victory over Mars in the PIAA Class 2A semifinal at Toyota Field in Mechanicsburg.
The win moves the Warriors to the program’s first championship game berth in 24 years, where they will face the defending state champs from Springfield (Delco). The final will be played on Saturday, 2 p.m., at West Chester East.
“It’s the first time in forever,” said junior attacker Archer Rymiszewski. “It goes back to before I was born. That’s crazy.”
Now 22-3 overall, Henderson has won 21 of the last 22. The lone exception was a 4-3 nail biter to Springfield on May 25th in the District 1 final.
“We would love another shot at (Springfield),” sophomore midfielder Luke Wierman said before knowing who his team was playing this weekend.
The Warriors last won a state crown all the way back in 1973. They made a return trip to the final in 1993, but came away with the runner-up trophy. And the only constant over the last four-plus decades is veteran head coach Paul Stankiewicz.
“When you get there the first time, you think, ‘this wasn’t too hard,’” Stankiewicz said. “Then you get there a second time (20 years later) and you think, ‘that was pretty hard.’
“And now we are back (24 years after that) and you think, ‘boy, that was a lot harder than I ever thought it would be.’”
Henderson has only surrendered double-digit goals in one match all season, but the Fightin’ Planets (21-3 overall) looked like they had the firepower in the early going to do it again when they raced out to 3-2 lead late in the opening period. But that’s when the Warriors made a few adjustments and proceeded to score seven of the next eight to take a 9-4 edge into the intermission.
“Mars was very good offensively and we knew if we let them get possession, we would be in trouble,” Staniewicz said. “But Luke (Wierman) didn’t let them do that. You can’t calculate how important that was because (Mars) knew if they scored, they wouldn’t get the ball back for a while.”
Wierman was masterful on face off all afternoon, winning nearly 80 percent of them and constantly giving possession back to Henderson. He also scored a couple early goals and added an assist.
“Once we started getting possessions, that’s when we started to control things,” Wierman said. “If we can get possessions, we can hold it for as long as we want, and getting it at the face off is the best way to get possessions.”
The District 7 champions, Mars pulled to within four midway through the third period, but the Warriors scored the last six goals of the quarter, and then added the next three in the fourth and the lead ballooned to 19-6.
Rymiszweski scored four of his game-high six goals during the 9-0 run, and teammate Joe Saulino chipped in with three goals and two assists.
“Once (Henderson) started dominating the possession, we had a tough time coming back,” said Mars head coach Bob Marcoux. “We are not used to playing this brand of lacrosse (in the Western part of the state). Henderson really moved the ball well.
“And once you are losing face offs and losing possessions, it can snowball on you pretty quickly. That’s what happened. We let it get away from us late in the first half and couldn’t recover. We have a very explosive offense, but we have to be able to get them the ball.”
The Warriors outshot Mars 33-14, and proved to any lingering skeptics that they can employ just about any style and still come out on top. Much of the contest was played at a frantic pace, and Henderson thrived.
“We can run offense, we can run fast-breaks — we can do whatever we need to do to get a win,” Wierman said.
“We can freelance,” Rymiszweski agreed. “We don’t have to run a specific offense. We knew (Mars’) offense could score and their defense wasn’t as strong. So we took that advantage and tried to score as much as we could.”
Matt Turse finished with three goals, and Nick Macetti and Dylan Teeter each added two for the Warriors.
“This is a great group of guys and we are really putting our heads down a fighting,” Tierman said.
And now, Henderson is just one win away from its first boys’ lacrosse state title in 44 years.
“We have six seniors who had never played lacrosse, ever, until this season,” Stankiewicz pointed out. “They wanted to come out and be a part of this team. We made them part of the defensive scout team so our offense could play against them.
“It gave us enough people to split up, and it made our practices so much better. I think we have three or four kids who would have been full-time starters if they had started playing as freshmen.”
West Chester Henderson 20, Mars 9
Mars 4 0 2 3 — 9
W.C. Henderson 5 4 7 4 –20
Mars goals: Hetzler 2, Lewis 4, Grieco 3.
W.C. Henderson goals: Rymiszewski 6, Jo. Saulino 3, Turse 3, Mascetti 2, Teeter 2, Wierman 2, McTiernan, Dunleavy.
Goalie saves: Anderson (M) 13; Dampman (WCH) 5.