It was the kind of finish befitting a team considered by some in the preseason as perhaps the best in the country. But a 2-2 start capped by a blowout loss to Gilman School (Md.) on April 5 changed the Explorers' mind-set.
"We decided to put [the rankings] behind us and just focus on the team. Focus on this as our goal," senior attack Jeff Cimbalista said. The slow start and the early beating provided motivation "to have this run that we did at the end."
La Salle (23-2) ended the season on a 21-game winning streak. The Explorers outscored their four state playoff opponents by a combined 46-13.
Saturday, they scored six times in the opening eight minutes. Rambo, en route to four goals, had a natural hat trick in a span of 2 minutes, 19 seconds.
Cimbalista, who finished with three, and Sean Coleman, who tallied two, also scored in the first.
Conestoga (15-11) gamely rallied to play La Salle even in the second, but the hole was too steep.
"They were definitely playing at a different gear early," Conestoga coach Brian Samson said. "When we got to that gear, we just didn't make the plays to get us back."
The Pioneers' fight was reminiscent of the push they demonstrated to claw their way into the playoffs late in the season and defend their title run. Conestoga won five of its last seven to scratch its way here as the fourth seed from District 1.
Conestoga has played in the PIAA title game all five years it has been played. When the contest got out of reach late, Samson called a timeout to mark the moment for his nine seniors.
"I said, 'Nothing changes for me,' " Samson recalled. "They left this program better than the way they found it even though we didn't win the state championship. This was a heck of a ride with these guys."
But this was La Salle's day. And Rambo, listed by some services as the nation's top recruit, can head to Maryland with his legacy safe.
"If I didn't win this game, words can't describe," Rambo said. "I'm going to remember this. That's what the coaches were saying. You win the state championship, you're going to remember this."
Conestoga 0 2 1 1 - 4
La Salle 6 2 2 3 - 13
C: Sam Friedman 1, Jake Scott 2, Zach Phelps 1.
L: Brian McNamara 1, Jeff Cimbalista 3, Matt Rambo 4, Sean Coleman 2, Stephen Hudak 1, Michael Pascali 1, Zach Drake 1.
Saves: C–Robert Zonino 5; L–Nick Hresko 3; Colin MacDougall 2, Connor Scafidi 1.
Contact Tim McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @ByTimMcManus.