The La Salle lacrosse team lugged the memory around for almost 2 months. And the Explorers don't like lugging anything around.

It's a program that has built a strong tradition and deep pride, winning their first Keystone Cup in 2004.

Every other lacrosse team in the state was taking aim at La Salle before the season began. The Explorers even thought a little highly of themselves - then they played a game. In La Salle's season opener, the Explorers lost to a very good Conestoga team.

That 6-3 defeat on March 21 gnawed at the Explorers all season. The Pioneers turned out to be the only Pennsylvania team to beat La Salle.

On Saturday, finally, revenge came on the biggest stage of high school lacrosse, when La Salle beat Conestoga, 7-3, in the first-ever PIAA state title game at HersheyPark Stadium.

The Explorers made history in becoming the first boys' team to ever win a state lacrosse championship. In addition, the Explorers became the first-ever - boys or girls - to earn the trifecta of winning the Catholic League, District 12 and PIAA crowns (Radnor's girls won the Central League title, but lost in the District 1 final).

"I think it was real special to go out the way we did, and our coach said that if won, we'd all walk out together with great memories," said La Salle senior goaltender Niko Amato, who made 10 saves and is going to Maryland to play lacrosse. "But we were looking more at a revenge game at Conestoga than making history. It was a big deal that we were the best team in the state.

"They beat us pretty good. We had to prove ourselves again by beating them. We aren't the type of team that gets pushed around, and they pushed us around the first game. That was uncharacteristic of us. We needed an ego check, and they gave it to us.

"We wanted to play them Saturday. There was no other team we wanted to play. The first game was definitely not our best showing. Conestoga is a good team, and I honestly can say they're the second-best team in the state."

But Conestoga (24-2) did have La Salle (21-4) reeling in the first quarter, taking an early 2-0 lead and dominating the play.

"It was just a matter of getting the ball and making better decisions," said the Explorers' Randy Forster, who's bound for Penn State. "We made some dumb decisions and we let up two quick ones, but Niko did a great job and we shut them down the rest of the game."

The Explorers led 4-3 at halftime, and Amato, who is trained by Brian Dougherty, shut out Conestoga in the second half.

"I'll remember the state title game as the best day of my life and I got to share it with all my best friends," Amato said. "You can't ask for a better way to leave high school." *