GLEN ROCK — Before the fourth quarter of Tuesday's York-Adams League boys' lacrosse semifinal game against Central York, the York Catholic players huddled together and reminded each other that nobody beats them during the fourth quarter.
So, after the Panthers scored just 50 seconds into the final quarter to tie the game at 8-8, it was time for the Fighting Irish to start walking the walk.
York Catholic responded, scoring the game's final six goals to defeat Central York 14-8 at Susquehannock High School, booking its spot in Thursday night's league championship game at Central York High School.
"We have seniors who step in and say, 'Nobody outplays us in the fourth,' word for word," Fighting Irish head coach Shane Harper said. "And it's true. Every single game we show up in the fourth and take off most of the third and show up at the end. It's awesome and it's what we've been living and dying by here recently."
If there was any part of Tuesday's game that York Catholic (13-3) took off, it was the second quarter. It was outscored 5-1 by the Panthers (13-5) in that frame, trailing 6-4 at halftime. But, the Irish didn't wait until the fourth quarter to make their move, even though that was the quarter where they separated themselves from Central. Instead, York Catholic came flying out of the gates to open the second half, scoring three of the four goals in the quarter to erase the two-goal deficit and open an 8-7 lead with just one quarter to play.
It was a matter of constantly winning face-offs that led to regular possession for the Irish, while continuing to pressure the Panthers' defense, gradually wearing down the unit and picking it apart one goal at a time.
"We were tired on defense," Central head coach Tom Mayne said. "And we got stuck with guys playing defense with short sticks who weren't our primary guys that we want out there playing defense, so that hurts too. Early on, we survived it and we survived a lot and were able to get that lead and I thought we were in good shape coming into the second half and it just slipped away and we didn't make plays when we needed to make plays."
All season long, defense hasn't necessarily been a strong suit for York Catholic. It was more accustomed to outscoring teams than winning low-scoring battles. But, in the most important game of the season, the Irish never gave the Panthers a chance to keep pace with their offense.
It started on face-offs and continued with ground balls, where York Catholic seemed to come up with every important one, relieving any pressure on its defense and never allowing Central to get in transition, where it can do all sorts of damage.
"We talked about it at halftime that ground balls (are) the only thing that they can kill us on, the only thing they can beat us on is in transition," Irish senior Luke Brennan said.
Brennan was part of a two-man show on the attack for York Catholic, along with Eli Doyle. Together, the tandem scored nine of the Irish's nine goals, including six of the 10 in the second half. Doyle finished with five goals, while Brennan had nine and Tanner Yannick dished out three assists.
T.J. Ross and Katon Yantek each had three goals for the Panthers, while goalie Sam Prowell made 17 saves in goal to keep Central within striking distance for much of the contest.
In a wild year in the boys' lacrosse scene, York Catholic might just be the craziest story entering the playoffs. Just a year ago, it finished eighth in the league and now, it has a chance to play for the program's first ever Y-A League title against Red Lion on Thursday night at 7 p.m.
"It absolutely is exactly what we expected," Harper said. "We knew where we were going to be at the start of the year, we knew we could do it, it was just a matter of finishing early in the season. We knew we had to finish and in big games, we had some trouble doing it in the years past and this year we were able to finish in the very end, so we knew we would be there."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com