It's obvious why La Salle was the preseason pick to win the PIAA state boys' lacrosse title.
The Explorers' roster listed 17 seniors who had played on a squad that finished 31-2 last season and was named state champion after winning the Keystone Cup trophy. La Salle was regarded as the nation's top team in 2008, according to Lacrosse Magazine.
In this first season with lacrosse as a PIAA sport, the Explorers (19-4) are two wins from turning some folks' preseason prediction into a reality.
La Salle faces Manheim Township in tomorrow's 8 p.m. state semifinal game at Governor Mifflin High School in Shillington. Conestoga faces Springfield (Delco) in tomorrow's 1 p.m. semifinal at Harriton High. The winners advance to Saturday's 2 p.m. title game at HersheyPark Stadium in Hershey.
The Explorers didn't always play like state-champion contenders, though.
La Salle opened the season by losing three of their first four games. Some might argue that those losses weren't bad since they came against Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse nationally ranked teams: Conestoga (13th), Gilman of Maryland (first), and Calvert Hall of Maryland (sixth).
But La Salle shouldn't get a pass, considering it was second in the organization's preseason rankings.
"I just think we might have been caught up in all of the hype," said all-American goalie Niko Amato, whose team is ranked 15th nationally. Having a team loaded with Division I prospects, that's easy to do.
Amato admitted that some players believed victories were guaranteed. What they found out, however, was that teams didn't surrender at the sight of the big, bad Explorers. Instead, they wanted to conquer them.
So after starting the season 1-3, La Salle woke up and began using the focus and determination that led it to last season's Keystone Cup title.
As a result, the Explorers have won eight straight and 18 of 19 games.
"Last year was special," said Amato, who signed a scholarship to play at the University of Maryland. "We won the last of the old [Keystone] state championships. This year we want to go out as the first of the new [PIAA] state champions."
Three things about last week
Don't count out Unionville. To overlook any team in the postseason is not a good idea. But Strath Haven really shouldn't count out Unionville in tomorrow's 6 p.m. PIAA girls' lacrosse state semifinal at West Chester East. Unionville upset District 1 champion Springfield (Delco), 10-8, in the state quarterfinals. Unionville had finished fifth in last week's district tournament. The Indians also suffered a 17-13 setback to Springfield on May 1.
Better luck next year. District 1 has the premier spring girls' soccer teams in the state. Or so we thought. The district's perceived invincibility took a huge hit Friday. That's when its four remaining teams were ousted from the PIAA state playoffs. Lower Dauphin toppled Neshaminy, 2-0, in a Class AAA quarterfinal.
On the other side of the bracket, Emmaus needed penalty kicks to beat Central Bucks South. In Class AA quarterfinals, Donegal beat New Hope-Solebury, 1-0, while Lancaster Mennonite defeated Christopher Dock, 2-1.
Lopsided leagues: I'm not a baseball expert. So I can't predict how the Philadelphia Catholic League will do in the PIAA state playoffs. One thing I do know is the PCL is much better than the Public League. If you're not convinced, just look at Thursday's District 12 championships, in which the champions of each league faced each other. St. Joseph's Prep beat Central, 11-1, in six innings to win the Class AAAA game. Neumann-Goretti throttled Franklin Towne Charter, 17-1, in five innings to take the Class AAA championship. And Kennedy-Kenrick hammered Esperanza, 12-1, in five innings to claim the Class AA title. Luckily for the Public League, there wasn't a Class A championship.
The PCL doesn't have any Class A teams.
Three things about this week
Must-see matchup: Two of the state's top boys' lacrosse teams, according to Phillylacrosse.com, meet in a can't-miss PIAA state semifinal. Second-ranked Conestoga faces eighth-ranked Springfield (Delco) in tomorrow's 1 p.m. contest. The teams last met on April 22, with Conestoga taking a 12-9 victory.
Time to play ball: The PIAA baseball and softball state tournaments begin today, with 22 games involving Southeastern Pennsylvania teams. I'm going to keep my eyes glued to today's 4 p.m. Class AAAA first-round baseball game between Garnet Valley and St. Joe's Prep at La Salle University. It's one of two baseball games involving two area teams as opponents.
Are you ready for some football? Folks looking to see football action are in luck. The 34th annual Bob Sands Memorial Bucks County Lions All-Star Football Classic will be held 7 p.m. Saturday at War Memorial Field in Doylestown. The North all-stars have an 18-12-3 series lead. The South, however, has won six of the last seven games.
Pompey's Super Seven
Here are the top seven spring teams in Southeastern Pennsylvania, regardless of sport:
1. Conestoga boys' lacrosse. The high-scoring Pioneers have scored 10 or more goals in 17 of their 24 games of the season.
2. La Salle boys' lacrosse. Assuming both teams win tomorrow's PIAA state semifinal, the Explorers will get an opportunity to avenge a season-opening loss to Conestoga.
3. Penn Charter baseball. What was I thinking? I originally thought Malvern Prep was the best baseball team in the Inter-Ac. Penn Charter proved me wrong by sweeping Malvern Prep.
4. Abington girls' track and field. Talk about dominance. The Ghosts managed to win the Class AAA girls' state title even though they had a few mishaps at the PIAA state meet.
5. Radnor girls' lacrosse. The Red Raiders have erased memories of their setback in the District 1 tourney final.
6. Spring-Ford softball. Since losing, 7-6, to Owen J. Roberts on May 6, the Rams defeated their next six opponents by a combined 24-3 score.
7. Pennsbury boys' volleyball. The Falcons were ranked fifth in the final Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association's Class AAA top-10 poll.
Under consideration: Central Bucks South softball, Malvern Prep baseball, Harriton boys' tennis, St. Joseph's Prep lacrosse, Swenson girls' track and field.