Playing in the the program's first York-Adams League title game was enough motivation for the York Catholic boys' lacrosse team.
But, for good measure, it received more. The Fighting Irish were tired of hearing about Red Lion's lethal attacking duo of Sam Emig and Jac Gemmill, and even more sick of the fact that the two of them combined for 12 goals in the regular-season meeting, one that the Lions won 17-15. On top of that, York Catholic didn't have one defensive player named to any of the three all-league teams.
So, the Irish were a little tired of feeling unappreciated. They felt their history of below-average play was impacting the way people viewed this year's team. As if all of their success this year was a fluke.
On Thursday night at Central York High School, York Catholic proved that everything it accomplished this year was not a fluke, thumping Red Lion 16-10 in the Y-A League title game to capture the program's first-ever championship.
"Our game plan was to take Emig out of it. Take Gemmill out of it. And we did," Irish head coach Shane Harper said. "They scored 12 last time between the two of them and they didn't get it this time and we got it done."
Shutting down two of the top three scorers in the league is a task easier said than done, yet York Catholic executed it to a 'T.' The defenders were instructed to face-guard the two offensive weapons and performed it to near perfection. The only point either Emig or Gemmill recorded all night was a second-quarter assist by Emig.
The Fighting Irish were fine with letting anyone else beat them. They just weren't going to lose the championship because they were torched for a second time this year by the duo.
"They probably came out here thinking, 'Oh, this is going to be just like the regular-season game and we're going to walk over them,'" York Catholic goalie Alex Reichart said. "But, we knew and I knew that we had the best defense in the league. We had the best players on the field and (the defense) stopping (Emig and Gemmill) from shooting makes my job so much easier and I love them for that because they don't even have a chance to score on me and that's the best."
The only time the Lions (14-5) ever played from in front was in the first quarter, when they built a 2-1 lead. After that, the Irish (14-3) went on a 5-1 run to open a 6-3 lead midway through the second quarter and took an 8-6 advantage into the halftime break.
There was no let up coming out to start the second half. York Catholic continued to dominate possession through the face-off dot, taking advantage of Red Lion face-off specialist Mason Gauntt seeing limited action because of an injured groin. It ultimately led to an 8-3 scoring run through the third quarter and part way into the fourth quarter that helped the Irish build a seven-goal lead, making the title all but secured with about five minutes to play.
"We couldn't win face-offs and they had the possession and they held the possession," Lions coach Stefan Striffler said. "They are a disciplined offense. They have very skilled offensive players and they can hold the ball and they can score goals."
While Emig and Gemmill were shut down on one end for Red Lion, at the other end, York Catholic's big guns carried its offense. Tanner Yanick and Luke Brennan each struck four times for the Irish, while Eli Doyle and Tommy Bowser scored three goals each. Doyle added three assists and Yanick had two to lead the team with six points a piece.
For the Lions, Justin Dashler led the way, scoring five goals, including three straight in the third and fourth quarters.
Thursday night's win was also the first time in program history that York Catholic knocked off Red Lion, breaking a 13-game skid.
The title also caps a miraculous turnaround by the Irish, going from a team that annually found itself finishing in the bottom half of the league standings, including an eighth-place finish last year, to now being atop the league.
"We have so many kids that stepped up in big ways," Harper said. "Last year, literally not even playing, to this year, now they're the best kids on the team. It's crazy how much we've improved."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org