Dominant La Salle one step away from three-peat.
WYNDMOOR, PA – One more win, and La Salle High School will add yet another Catholic League boys’ lacrosse plaque to its already jam-packed trophy case.
At 7 PM Friday at Cardinal O’Hara in Delaware County, the Explorers will meet St. Joseph’s Prep. Any time the Explorers and Hawks meet, it promises to be an event filled with game-long aggression and maybe even a cheap shot or two for good measure.
Maybe it’s really true that all is fair in love and war.
“The rivalry is definitely a part of this game for us,” said La Salle senior Matt Clibanoff. “There will always be a rivalry that they don't like us and we don't like them. In every sport – football, lacrosse, basketball, soccer, etc. – we do not get along with those guys. It will be a very special game for me, my teammates, and the school.
“We know they are going to compete at a very high level and take no plays off. It's going to be a very high-intensity game.”
La Salle’s leading scorer, Clibanoff tallied five goals and added four assists in the Explorers’ 19-2 semifinal romp over visiting Archbishop Carroll Wednesday afternoon. The victory increased La Salle’s Catholic League record to 11-0 this year. Along the way, opponents have only scored 12 goals against the Explorers, and four of them were blanked.
Attempting to capture their 22nd all-time title, third straight, and four of the past five (St. Joseph’s Prep last win in 2015), the Explorers have shown zero signs of letting up regardless of their foe.
“The thought of heading into the championship is winning our individual match-ups,” said the Ohio State University-bound Clibanoff, one of nine first-team All-Catholic Explorers. “Also, we want to make sure that the little things aren't a issue. That is what separates us from other teams – the little things. We want to make sure we win 50 out of 50 ground balls and control the tempo of the game.”
The Hawks (10-1) lost to La Salle, 9-2, on April 26. La Salle has averaged 17 goals per league game; the Prep was the only team that held the Explorers to single digits.
Bobby Bohner, a first-team All-Catholic defender who will attend Bucknell University as a business major but not play sports, recognized the Prep as a more than worthy challenger.
“We see St. Joe’s in the championship almost every year so it is always a hard fought battle, and I expect it to be nothing short of that this year,” said Bohner. “St. Joe’s was definitely the best competition we saw in the league this year, and once playoffs come around, anyone can beat anyone. It really comes down to who shows up that day. We have been making great strides as a team and we are excited for another great challenge.”
Bohner explained La Salle’s stinginess on defense.
“We do not give up many chances in Catholic League games, but I must give a lot of credit to our face-off men for winning a lot of possessions and to the attack and midfielders for riding hard and getting the ball back,” said Bohner. “Our goalie (Mike Clibanoff, a first-team All-Catholic and twin brother of aforementioned Matt) is a great vocal leader to have backing the defense. We have a solid amount of returning All-Catholic and all-state players this year that are battle tested and lead the team through tough games.”
St. Joe's Prep respectfully accepts underdog role as they prepare to face La Salle in PCL final.
PHILADELPHIA – On the surface, it’s a foregone conclusion that La Salle High School will become Catholic League champions after they take on rival St. Joseph’s Prep tomorrow evening.
Don’t worry. SJP is not offended by common sense. In fact, the Hawks prefer that people think that way.
“We do not have a lot to lose,” said senior defenseman and Naval Academy-bound Zach Snider. “We should use that to a strength to play aggressive.”
The Prep (10-1) reached the finals by stopping visiting Archbishop Carroll (7-4) on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, 11-7.
“It was a sloppy game all around because of the weather, but we knew going into today what we had to do,” said senior defenseman Mike Browne. “It wasn’t our best game defensively, as we let in some goals that we normally wouldn’t. We did have a slow start and it took some time to pull away. They had a couple goals towards the end when we took our main guys out that might make the game seem closer than it was.
“What matters most is that we were able to make some mistakes today so that we can learn from them, and be ready to go for an intense game on Friday.”
In years past, the Catholic League final possessed some drama. Outside of the two perennial PCL mainstays adding yet another championship final against each other, this season is a bit different.
In their 11 wins – 10 in the regular season and a 19-2 cakewalk past Lansdale Catholic Wednesday afternoon – the Explorers have surrendered a ridiculous 12 goals.
Winners of 21 Catholic League lacrosse titles and three of the past four (St. Joseph’s Prep last won in 2015), the Explorers shut out four teams. The closest anyone came to even competing with La Salle was the Prep, which lost by a usually stunning, but this year acceptable, 9-2 on April 26.
The Prep, meanwhile, allowed 43 goals, which is still pretty darn good. Four Hawks, including Snider and Browne, were recently named first-team All-Catholic.
“Anyone that hasn’t watched our team progress through the season might blow us off,” said Browne, “but the only people that matter are on this team, and we have nothing but confidence going into the game,”
Browne, who next year will attend Villanova, has the utmost respect for La Salle.
“We know what we’re going against,” said Browne. “We know they are well coached and have a lot of talent. With that being said, we are a totally different team from when we played them last.
“We know we will be the underdogs going into it, and we have no problem with that. We’ve been watching film and learning their tendencies, and we have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to prove against them.”
Browne then summoned the now-famous words of Philadelphia Eagles’ center Jason Kelce when he addressed the throng of Bird zealots at the parade honoring the Superbowl LII champions.
“Hungry dogs run faster,” said Browne.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)
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