League rivals? No. District rivals? No. But when it comes to PIAA title games, there are no two teams more familiar with one another than these clubs.
La Salle and Conestoga account for each championship since the PIAA began sanctioning the sport in 2009. Conestoga seeks its third consecutive crown and is making its fourth straight appearance in the game. La Salle makes its third trip, eyeing its first title since '09.
The Explorers topped Conestoga to win that championship, and the Pioneers overcame La Salle for their 2010 title. Saturday will be the rubber match.
"They will be a tough team," Conestoga coach Brian Samson said. "We had a great battle with them about a month ago. I expect a battle. They're a very complete team; they're deep."
Conestoga's pedigree makes it the favorite on paper. The Pioneers have won 11 straight, including that win over La Salle, since falling to the vaunted Haverford School on April 28. They have outscored opponents by 118-49 over that stretch and claimed their fourth straight District 1 crown.
They have two formidable goalies (Brody Shea and Robbie Zonino) and 21 seniors on the roster. Senior attackmen Bradlee Lord (Maryland), Tyler Brooke (Maryland), and Connor Frisina (Delaware) are bound for top Division I programs. The defense is staunch, led by 6-foot-2 Duke recruit Jamie Ikeda.
La Salle, with 19 juniors, counters with a talented lineup of its own. Junior Matt Rambo is one of the most dangerous players in the nation (Maryland-bound, as well) and has scored 13 goals through three state-tournament games. Junior midfielder Sean Coleman (Harvard) is perhaps the fastest player on either roster, and Casey Eidenshink (Lehigh) mans the Explorers' back line.
That crew has La Salle, winner of the Catholic League and District 12 titles, on a nine-game win streak since the loss to Conestoga. Over that stretch, the Explorers have averaged 14 goals and given up 3.22 per game.
"I think we're playing better offensively since the last game," Leahy said. "We're shooting better. We missed the goal way too much last game. Part of that is due to them, and their goalie made some good saves, but I just think we're playing better offensively than we were a month and a half ago."
With talent through the roof - both teams are nationally ranked - experience might tip the scales. Conestoga has the clear edge there.
"Having experience back in Hershey, I'm just excited to get back," Lord said. "We're familiar with the territory. . . . It's something we're used to, and we should use that to our advantage."
Both teams have advanced comfortably through the tournament: Conestoga has won three games by an average margin of 6.33 goals, and La Salle's margin is 9.33.
"We'll see which group is more desperate to win this thing," Leahy said.
PIAA State Boys' Lacrosse Final
Who: Conestoga (22-3) vs. La Salle (20-4).
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Hersheypark Stadium, 100 Hersheypark Dr., Hershey, Pa.
TV: Live on Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN).
Contact Evan Burgos