It was deja vu all over again for the St. Joseph's Prep lacrosse team against La Salle.

The Explorers ended the Hawks' season Thursday night by beating them, 7-5, in the Catholic League championship at Plymouth Whitemarsh High, ending their season for the second year in a row.

Senior attack Christian Cardinal scored three goals, leading the Explorers to the District 12 and Catholic League titles and a berth in the PIAA playoffs.

"Senior year, [we] have to leave it all out on the field," Cardinal said.

This is the second season for the PIAA postseason format, which allows only one team from District 12 to compete for a state title, even though St. Joseph's is ranked sixth by the state media rankings and is considered a top team in the area.

"What we try to make the kids understand is that you can't control those things. We need to take what's given to us and make the most of it," Prep coach Eric Gregg said. "We knew our path to the championship of the state is through La Salle. . . . It is frustrating, but you do what you can.

"Bottom line, we knew the formula: One team gets in."

Last year, the Explorers did the same thing to the Hawks, beating them in the regular season and in the Catholic League championship, advancing to the first PIAA state tournament, which the Explorers won.

"In a rivalry, anything can happen," La Salle coach Bill Leahy said. "We spend a lot of time talking about treating that [Prep] jersey like it's anyone else. You start running around with all the emotion, and that's not good.

"Just go play lacrosse and you'll be fine," he added.

St. Joseph's Prep went up, 2-0, early off two unassisted goals. Then the Explorers struck back, scoring two of their own to tie the score with a little over a minute left in the first quarter.

La Salle went into halftime up, 4-3, after the last six minutes of the second quarter were scoreless.

The Explorers dominated possession and outshot their opponents but never pulled away, giving the opportunity for the Prep to stay in the game and go into the final quarter down by one, 5-4.

In a back-and-forth fourth quarter, the Hawks bombarded the Explorers' net with shots, launching some off the posts, wide or high. After scoring their seventh goal with less than six minutes remaining, La Salle held on to win.

"La Salle has had a rich tradition since 1992," Explorers goalie John Lawlor said. "It's important to us to carry on the winning tradition.

"In the beginning of the season, we started out and we said that we could either do the bare minimum and make it to the PCL championship . . . or we could set expectations to win states again. That's what our team decided to do."

The PIAA tournament is scheduled to start Tuesday.

St. Joseph's Prep 2 1 1 1 – 5

La Salle 2 2 1 2 – 7

Goals: SJP-Bradley James 2, Rob Watts 2, Jeff Heath; LS-Christian Cardinal 3 Patrick Resch, Sean Coleman, Nick Cruice, Jack Bogorowski.

Saves: SJP-Mike Zikoski 5; LS-John Lawlor 7.