As he proved in yesterday's lacrosse showdown with the Haverford School, La Salle's Jack Forster does not have to score to be a catalyst.

Forster quarterbacked the Explorers in the middle of the field and in the attack zone, showing his usual toughness, natural instincts and leadership. His play sparked La Salle's strong start, and then, near the end, even though he made an uncharacteristic errant pass, kept the Fords from pulling off a comeback win.

"Jack just plays smooth lacrosse," La Salle coach Bill Leahy said. "And he's a gamer, too."

With Forster providing much more than two credited assists, the host Explorers, ranked No. 1 in the Eastern Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association, jumped out to a 7-1 lead and held off the No. 2-ranked Fords, 7-6.

La Salle (14-0 overall, 6-0 Catholic League) is No. 16 in the country in the latest Insidelacrosse.com top-25 poll. The Fords (8-4, 2-1 Inter-Academic League) are No. 19.

"It's a pretty big win, but the real season doesn't come until the playoffs," said Forster, who in September was ranked as the second-best player in the Class of 2007 by Inside Lacrosse magazine.

Forster, an attackman and midfielder, assisted on both of Conrad Ridgway's goals. Last season, when the Explorers went 24-5 overall and reached the semifinals of the EPSLA tournament, Forster topped the 40-goal mark.

A Penn State recruit, the 6-foot, 180-pound Forster soon will be reunited with his brother, Rob, a sophomore attackman for the Nittany Lions and former La Salle standout.

In avenging last year's 9-6 loss at the Haverford School, the Explorers scored three goals in the first five minutes of the game. It was 7-1 when Pete Schwartz scored his third goal with 3 minutes, 58 seconds to play before intermission.

"You can't give yourself a six-goal hole," said Haverford School coach John Nostrant, whose squad was outshot, 21-6, in the first 24 minutes. "Guys were pressing a bit, forcing shots."

Down by 7-2 at halftime, the Fords scored three goals late in the third period to make it 7-5. Early in the fourth, a tally by Virginia signee John Haldy sliced La Salle's once-comfortable lead to one.

"We couldn't possess the ball, we weren't clearing it, and we were losing too many face-offs," Forster said.

With 44 seconds remaining, La Salle goalie Niko Amato (eight saves) stopped a point-blank shot by Rory O'Connor. The Fords regained possession with 30 seconds to go, but a bad set-up pass kept them from attempting a final shot.

Kyle Wharton, a dynamic player headed to Johns Hopkins, led the Fords with a hat trick. Fellow attackman Chris Aitken, a Villanova recruit, had a goal and two assists.

Haverford School 1 1 3 1 - 6

La Salle3 4 0 0 - 7

Goals: HS-Kyle Wharton 3, Chris Aitken, Morgan Young, John Haldy. LS-Pete Schwartz 3, Conrad Ridgway 2, T.J. Brown, Randy Forster.

Saves: HS-Dan Wigrizer 5. LS-Niko Amato 8.

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien

at 610-313-8019 or robrien@phillynews.com.