Seven was enough.

St. Joseph's Prep, refusing to play second fiddle for another year to archrival La Salle, captured the program's first Catholic League lacrosse title since 2003 with an 8-6 triumph over the Explorers on Thursday evening at Cardinal O'Hara.

The Prep had bowed to La Salle in the final in each of the last seven years. For the last three seasons, the game also has served as the PIAA District 12 championship, with only the victor moving on to states.

"It's the best feeling in the world," said Hawks senior attackman Brad James, who contributed a pair of goals. "It's everything we worked for in the offseason. We really wanted this."

Blaine Fleming, a junior midfielder, paced the offense with a hat trick. With 11 seconds to play, his 35-yard, left-side floater found an empty net and clinched the victory.

"I got double-teamed, saw the goalie [Cory Shaffer] had come out to defend one of our players," Fleming said. "I just threw it in the general direction of the goal and hoped it would go in."

On Wednesday, the Hawks (16-4) will begin play in the state tournament against District 1's No. 4 seed at a site and time to be determined. The Explorers (14-6) were trying for their 17th Catholic League crown in the last 19 years.

When he took over as the Prep's coach in 2009, Eric Gregg said he tried to "emulate" the training practices used by La Salle, which is directed by head coach Bill Leahy and assistant Tony Resch.

"They put Catholic League lacrosse on the map in Philadelphia, the state, and beyond," said Gregg, 32. "It's a phenomenal program."

Gregg was a goalie in lacrosse at Episcopal Academy and Gettysburg, and with the Philadelphia Barrage. His late father, also Eric, was a longtime and popular Major League Baseball umpire.

"He's probably dancing up in heaven for me right now," Gregg said.

The Hawks were without hard-charging attackman Fenton Fitzpatrick. The senior, with a team-high 39 goals, suffered a knee injury in a recent practice. "We were trying to win it for him," Fleming said.

With tallies from Fleming, James, Jeff Heath, and Anthony Marini, the Prep led, 4-3, at intermission. James is bound for High Point University, in North Carolina; Heath, also a football standout, will play lacrosse at Delaware.

Late in the third period, scores by Marini, on an assist from Cory Schuerle, and Fleming (unassisted) pushed the advantage to 7-4.

The defenders in front of Prep netminder Liam Correia (five saves) included twins Pat and Will Farrell, Clint Barber, and Connor Dent. Seconds after La Salle had cut the gap to 7-5 on a fourth-period goal by Zack Jones, Correia came up big on a dangerous shot by Casey Eidenshink.

For La Salle, sophomore star Matt Rambo recorded two of his three goals after intermission. He made it 7-6 with a little more than four minutes to play.

St. Joseph's Prep   3 1 3 1 – 8

La Salle   3 0 1 2 – 6

Goals: SJP-Blaine Fleming 3, Jeff Heath, Brad James 2, Anthony Marini 2; LS-Matt Rambo 3, Zack Jones 2, Sean Coleman.

Saves: SJP-Liam Correia 5; LS-Cory Shaffer 5.

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019 or robrien@phillynews.com.