HUMMELSTOWN — Over the course of 19 games this season, the York Catholic boys' lacrosse team managed to change the entire perception of the program.
The Fighting Irish proved that they were no longer a pushover in the York-Adams League. They went from finishing eighth in the league last year to winning the program's first league title. They qualified for the District 3 tournament and even won a game, advancing to Thursday's quarterfinal against Mid Penn power Cumberland Valley.
Even though the entire year defines the season that York Catholic had, a five-minute span in the 10-8 loss to the Eagles will ultimately be what the players will look back on from Thursday's game and think, "What if?"
With the game tied at 5-5 early in the third quarter, CV (17-2) broke the deadlock to take a 6-5 advantage with just under nine minutes to play in the quarter. Three minutes later, the Eagles scored again. Then 96 seconds after that. And 24 seconds after that. By the time the Fighting Irish could finally stop the bleeding, thanks to the quarter coming to a close, CV blitzed them for a 4-0 run, opening up the largest lead of the game, one that York Catholic never overcame.
"The face-offs were a killer," Irish head coach Shane Harper said. "Anytime a team is on a run like that, you take the face-off from them, then you kill their run because they're not on offense. What they did on that five-minute run was execute and that's all it takes."
York Catholic (15-4) scored the first goal of the fourth quarter to give itself life and pull the game back to within 9-6. However, the Eagles instantly responded and pushed the lead back up to four with just under six minutes to play. It was a lead they were content to sit on, passing the ball around the box. Only when a stall warning was placed on them, did the Eagles go at the goal. Rarely did the Irish gain possession, and when they did, they were thwarted by the lock-down CV defense.
It wasn't until the final minute, when York Catholic scored twice in 20 seconds, that the Eagles had some tense moments. Back-to-back goals by Steven Nigro brought the score to 10-8, and then a possession win off the ensuing face-off gave the Irish a glimmer of hope. A couple of missed shots and a couple more saves by CV goalie Nic Brown brought the game to a close, ending York Catholic's season.
"Just pride," Harper said about his team's willingness to not give up. "Pride and being part of this team and not wanting to go down 10-6. Just giving all they got to make sure the game's respectable on paper. We lose by two to a great team. So, just pride."
The game started about as perfect as Harper and the Irish could've hoped. Tommy Bowser and Tanner Yanick each scored in the game's first four minutes to build a 2-0 lead. The Eagles responded with two goals of their own to close out the quarter and then extended their run to 3-0 into the second quarter. Yanick brought the game back to 3-3 with his second goal of the contest, but CV scored two of the next three goals to close out the half with a 5-4 lead.
Eli Doyle, Nigro and Yanick each scored two goals for York Catholic, while Yanick and Doyle added an assist. Eddie Smith and Bowser added the other two goals and Luke Brennan ended his career with a two-assist performance. Smith also added an assist. Goalie Alex Reichart made 10 saves in the cage.
Despite the loss, York Catholic was the only York-Adams team to make it to the district quarterfinals. It was just one more accolade in the most successful season in program history.
"Over the past five years, we've always been that team that people say, 'Oh, we're just playing York Catholic. We can play our scrubs. We can play our second team,'" Harper said. "It's nice to be able to see that we will now be respected, at least a little bit, from the other teams in the league, which all happen to be bigger than us. They're not going to say, 'Oh, they're York Catholic. They're a small team.' They're going to look at us and say, 'Hey, it's York Catholic. They did really well. We gotta come to play.' It will gain us more respect going forward."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org