Conestoga is speedy, known to be one of the most athletic teams in the area.

As such, the Pioneers don't normally need to set up and execute their offense. They score most of their goals on transition through the middle of the field.

But against Springfield-Delco in yesterday's PIAA boys lacrosse state semifinal matchup - a rematch of the two Central League rivals from their April 21 game that spanned 2 days because of lightning - the Pioneers were patient.

"People say that we move the ball like a college team," Conestoga midfielder Matt Smith said. "We tried to settle down and hold the ball a little bit more. We wanted to control the pace. When our offense moves the ball like that, we have a good chance to win."

If the Pioneers move the ball like they did yesterday, leading to an impressive 9-4 victory over Springfield, Conestoga has a shot to become the first-ever PIAA lacroose state champion.

By controlling possession, Conestoga helped marginalize Springfield's usually potent offense out of transition.

"We like to run," said Conestoga coach Brian Samson. "We score a lot of goals on transition. But I also think that when we can run our offense - and run it well - we can't put the ball in the goal. [Yesterday], our guys made plays."

Smith was dominant for the Pioneers, scoring a game-high three goals and recording two assists. Jeff Chu also added two tallies and one helper, but it was the play of All-American defender Mike Bronzino and goaltender Pete Zonino that sealed the game for Conestoga.

Bronzino and Zonino limited Springfield All-American attacker Josh Cavanaugh to one assist.

But it could have been a different story if Conestoga didn't ratchet up the defensive pressure in the second half. Joe Addona, a long pole defender from Springfield, sprinted down the field and blasted a bounce shot past Zonino to tie the game at 3-3 just 2 seconds before halftime.

"We tried to not dwell on that goal," Samson said. "We wanted to focus on the adjustments we needed to make and stay positive. We told them to not sweat it.

"We put a big emphasis on defense."

Instead, their adjustments limited the Cougars to just one goal in the second half - and it came when the game was already out of reach.

"We just tried to not make careless mistakes and turn the ball over," Bronzino said. "We played our normal tough defense and just talked our way through it.

"[Yesterday], we needed a team-oriented approach. It was a collective effort to get the win."

The Cougars (19-6) could simply not keep up. Conestoga scored twice in the third quarter and pumped in four goals in the final frame.

"I think we fought hard all game, we fought strong," said Springfield goalkeeper Austin Kaut, who stopped 16 shots in a brilliant effort. "We were matching them goal for goal for a while. We started strong in the second half but played too much defense. Their depth caught up to us.

"It was a dogfight until the end. We just couldn't hang on."

"They are a team without any weaknesses," Springfield coach Mike Friel said. "You can't let a team like that go on runs like we did. You don't want to let them sit on the ball and you don't want them to run - they dictate the pace."

Junior midfielder Joe Venit scored Springfield's opening and closing goals, but they were little consolation in coming to grips with the end of a dream-filled season.

"In the second half, we wanted to come out and shut them down," Venit said. "We started to but it never really happened. We were right where we wanted to be."

Conestoga (24-1) will now have the unenviable task of shutting down perennial power La Salle, which dumped Manheim Central, 10-3, in the other state semifinal last night. The two will clash Saturday afternoon at HersheyPark Stadium for the state championship. The Pioneers' only loss of the season came to La Salle's archrival St. Joe's Prep in overtime in May.

Bronzino relishes such challenges.

"This is huge, it is the first state final," Bronzino said. "This is what we've worked for all year. Everyone is excited and ready to go." *