HERSHEY When the Conestoga boy's lacrosse team went ahead by two goals less than two minutes into Saturday's PIAA title game against La Salle, some players and fans got anxious thinking about the last time the Pioneers were in the same position.
Conestoga experienced heartbreak in last year's PIAA title game when the Explorers fought back from being down by two goals and went on to win the championship.
This time at HersheyPark Stadium, the Pioneers changed the script and, despite falling behind by a goal themselves, rallied for a 10-6 victory, capturing the state crown.
The win gave Conestoga (22-2) its first state championship. La Salle finished 20-3.
"I think everyone on the bench that was here last year had a little deja vu," Conestoga's Ryan Buttenbaum said of last year's 7-3 La Salle win.
"But we came together, settled down and figured out how to get our transition game going," added Buttenbaum, who will play for Lehigh University next year. "I really think that's what won the game for us."
"We wanted revenge from last year," Hobart College-bound goalie Pete Zonino said. "It was a heartbreaking loss last year. We just wanted it so bad; we worked our butts off all year."
After the Pioneers' first two goals, La Salle rebounded for a 3-2 lead but Conestoga tied it, 3-3, in the first period. Then the Pioneers went on a 6-0 run, holding La Salle scoreless for just under 28 minutes. That set the tone heading into the fourth period with the Pioneers in command of almost every aspect of the game.
"It was a great season. Nobody thought we'd ever be here and we were. But we are not designed to play from behind," La Salle coach Bill Leahy said. "We had no saves in the first half and you can't win a game like that."
With less than nine minutes to play in the fourth quarter, La Salle mounted a comeback, scoring three goals and keeping the Pioneers to limited possessions. Briefly, the game was within the Explorers' reach, 9-6.
But with two minutes remaining, Conestoga scored one last goal, halting La Salle's run.
"Our team is so deep throughout," said Conestoga senior attack Jeff Chu, who scored four goals. "With Pete [Zonino] in goal, Ryan Buttenbaum at the face-off . . . There are so many people I can't say enough about."
The Conestoga roster will lose 19 seniors with the Pioneers class of 2010, seven of whom will go on to compete for Division I programs.
"We are very excited about this event, this moment." Conestoga coach Brian Samson said. "I've coached for nine years and I think every kid I've coached has a piece of this thing."
"We always say you stand on the shoulders of the people that come before you," Samson added. "This is great for the class of 2010 but it's also great for all the 'Stoga lacrosse players that just battled and worked really hard."
La Salle 3 0 0 3 - 6
Conestoga 3 4 2 1 - 10
Goals: L–Christian Cardinal 2, Jack Bogorowski, Sean Coleman, Pat Resch, Nick Cruice; C–Jeff Chu 4, Jason Klunder 2, Pete Bowers, Ryan Lord, Matt Smith, Ryan Buttenbaum.
Saves: L–John Lawlor 4; C–Pete Zonino 6.