Top of the L-L mountain Mounts defeat Township, 8-5, to win first-ever L-L boys lacrosse title
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
The potential was there. It was always there.
Ever since this current crop of seniors rose from up and comers to key varsity performers, Ephrata had a chance to do great things on the lacrosse field.
However, there were always two big obstacles in the Mounts’ way.
Hempfield and Manheim Township.
Those two programs, which have owned every Lancaster-Lebanon League title since the league adopted the sport, were always in their way.
Well, Ephrata began chipping away a year ago with its monumental victory over Hempfield in the L-L League semifinals. This year, the Mounts finally blew down the door.
Last Wednesday evening, Ephrata advanced to its second-straight L-L title game with a 9-7 victory over the Black Knights. Friday night at Comet Field in Millersville, the Mounts finally cleared the final hurdle as they defeated Manheim Township, 8-5, to capture their first L-L League crown in school history.
Mason Quickel, Joey Seller and Evan Hornberger all scored two goals apiece for Ephrata, which also received solid defensive play and spectacular goaltending from Brian Neff (11 saves) to knock off the Blue Streaks for the first time ever to become L-L League champs.
"I am in awe," senior captain Tucker Keefer said following the monumental victory. "It’s almost like the moment hasn’t quite hit me but we finally got the monkey off our backs. We beat Township and we beat Hempfield. We set every goal at the beginning of the season and we finished it off. It’s just an amazing feeling."
It was a moment the team could dream about the last four years, but one they didn’t realize until they found a way to dethrone the Streaks.
That happened Friday.
"We finally got it done," Ephrata Coach Kevin Pletz said. "I’m just extremely excited and proud of these guys. These guys worked hard all season long, accomplishing goals they set in the pre-season. The L-L championship was one of them, and I’m just extremely proud that the guys stuck together, worked hard all season and accomplished their goal."
Keefer added, "We finally reached the pinnacle. This class of kids always felt like we were very strong in the league and could compete with these teams and beat these teams. We had all of the expectations at the beginning of the season and then we had to put our money where our mouths were. Everyone was talking us up, saying how good we were going to be, and we just worked. It’s been four years in the making and this is the ultimate prize."
But Township made the Mounts (18-2) work for it. In fact, the Blue Streaks (15-5) took a quick 2-0 lead as Ryan Morgan and Chase Miller struck for early goals. But Ephrata didn’t panic, and countered with three-unanswered tallies by Quickel, Sellers and Hornberger to grab its first lead of the game heading into the second quarter.
Township added a goal with 1:16 left in the half to knot the score at 3-3, but the Mounts answered right back with 54 ticks on the clock as Keefer fed Sellers in the slot to put Ephrata back up on top 4-3 at the break.
The Mounts then added another score in the first minute of the third on a Hornberger tally to make it 5-3, but Township responded with some momentum of its own when Ephrata went a man down.
The Blue Streaks peppered the Ephrata net but each time Neff and the defense stood strong. Neff made two big stops during that flurry and used an outstanding defensive play from Corey Shirk to thwart another opportunity.
"That (sequence) gave us so much confidence," Neff said. "We were a man down and held them off there so that definitely was a big turning point. It boosted our confidence."
Keefer added, "Obviously having a goalie like Brian is just a backbreaker for the other team. They can work for the best shot…He bailed us out twice. You can’t help sometimes just sitting there and saying, ‘how did he just do that?’ He comes up with plays like that every game and you can’t help but appreciate that."
Quickel scored his second goal of the game with 4:43 to go in the third to make it 6-2, and after Township momentarily stopped the bleeding with a goal from Willy Hendrick, Josh Frey tallied with 15 seconds left to put the Mounts back up by three with one quarter to go.
Hendrick did cut the deficit back to two with a goal at the 6:31 mark, but the Mounts put away the victory in the final minute on a goal from Dakota Keefer.
Earlier this season when the two teams met in Ephrata, Township handed the Mounts their first and only league loss of the season in a 10-9 Blue Streak victory. The two keys that night were the amount of time the Mounts spent in the box and the countless times Township transitioned from defense to an attack Ephrata never did control
Friday night, it was obvious Ephrata learned from its mistakes. This time, the Mounts committed just two fouls that resulted in man down situations. And, the defense, led by physical longpole Alex Pstrak, packed it in and kept things pretty cozy in front of the Mounts’ net.
"Once we got in a settled defense, we knew we’d be able to stick with them," Pletz said. "The two key things were we had to break down their transition and not give up penalties. I think we accomplished those goals on both ends."
"We obviously saw them earlier in the year and we knew what kind of mistakes we made," Tucker Keefer said. "Our coaches did a great job putting together a gameplan for our defense to give shots that Brian was very capable of saving. All of their shots were basically outside except for a few they got on transition. We limited penalties which was a huge factor last game. We ended up shooting ourselves in the foot last time and gave them easy goals. Tonight we learned from our mistakes. We came out here tonight and got the W. It’s just amazing."
Another factor was face-offs, which Ephrata struggled with in the previous meeting. Friday night, Tyler Sensenig was up to the challenge, winning nine out of 17 face-offs, including five of eight in the second half.
"Hands down that was absolutely a huge advantage that Tyler was out there winning face-offs," Pletz said. "He was dominating them on face-offs and we weren’t always stuck back on defense. Tonight we were able to play on offense right away so it was huge for us. Tyler played tough out there and deserves a lot of credit."
"It’s a great feeling," Pletz said, summing up the biggest victory in program history. "Again, I’m just really proud of these guys. They have worked long and hard to accomplish this goal and they finally got it done."
In last Wednesday’s two-goal victory over Hempfield, the Mounts trailed 6-5 heading to the final quarter but out-scored the black Knights 4-1 down the stretch to claim the win.
Hornberger led Ephrata in scoring, pumping in four goals. Dakota Keefer added two tallied and three assists while Sellers, Frey and Tucker Keefer also found the net for Ephrata. Neff made 11 saves in the win. More LEAGUE CHAMPS, page B-5