For the boys lacrosse programs at Peters Township and Mt. Lebanon high schools, the 2017 season revealed some telling moments.
For the Indians, the journey was a historic one as they fought their way into the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs and won their first WPIAL championship with a heart-stopping 12-11 double-overtime victory over Mt. Lebanon at Robert Morris University's Joe Walton Stadium.
The Indians' Danny Bacchiochi ended the epic battle between the two longtime rivals with a spinning shot from 15 yards out with 2:41 left in the second overtime.
Bacchiochi was pleased with what the victory meant for the Indians in both the short- and the long-term.
"It's the first time in Peters history [to win a WPIAL boys lacrosse championship]," he said. "It feels pretty good. I knew someone had to make a play, and we were struggling to put the ball in the net. I pushed it top-side, spun back and shot it left-handed and hoped it would go in. I couldn't smile hard enough. It was great to just bring a WPIAL title back to Peters for once."
It was a heart-stopping game for the Indians' 28-year-old coach Mike Kaplan. "I got pretty exhausted out there," said the grinning Kaplan. "I'm just exhausted, and I'm on the sideline. I told them at the end of the first overtime, please go out there and finish the game. My heart can't handle this. I'm 28, but this is extremely stressful stuff. I can't even imagine what was going through the players' minds throughout the entire game."
It was the second time the Indians had beaten the Blue Devils. Peters Township won the regular-season game between the two teams, 10-5.
But the euphoria of that championship soon was replaced by disappointment as the Indians saw their season end with a 14-5 first-round loss to District 3 runner-up Manheim Township.
The loss ended the Indians' season at 14-7. Still, that means there will be plenty to build on as Kaplan and his team prepare for the 2018 season.
While Bacchiochi and Kaplan were talking with the media, Mt. Lebanon coach Mike Ermer waited patiently to talk with the media. It's not the first time Ermer has waited to talk with the media; class has been in his DNA since he became the team's coach. And, he can coach, too. The Blue Devils have won four WPIAL titles, three of them under Ermer's leadership.
Trailing 5-1 after the first quarter, Mt. Lebanon made some adjustments.
"[Indians faceoff specialist] Nick Phelps was just crushing it in the first quarter, so we had to throw in some monkey wrenches there," Ermer said. "We needed to kick the guys in the rear end and get them refocused. We put ourselves behind the eight ball to begin the game, and we had to scrap and claw to get us close as we did. We had a chance, and it just didn't go our way."
The change in stratgey worked as Mt. Lebanon cut the halftime deficit to 6-5, and the game remained a close one.
In the second half, the teams were tied three times, and Mt. Lebanon took its second lead of the game at 11-10 with 6:44 left in the fourth quarter when John Sramac took a great feed from Patrick Moeller for his fourth goal of the game. For Moeller, it was his fourth assist.
And, it stayed that way until the Indians' Will Delaney scored his first goal of the game with 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Mt. Lebanon makes most of PIAA berth: While Peters Township found itself out of the picture following its first-round loss to Manheim Township, Mt. Lebanon was just stepping up its game with successive victories in the PIAA Class 3A tournament with an 8-7 first-round victory over District 3 champion West Lawn Wilson. Then came an 11-4 victory over District 6 champion State College in the quarterfinals.
That set up a semifinal showdown with Conestoga, the top seed from District 1, the area that sent six teams to the state tournament and is widely-known as the top boys lacrosse area in the state.
Conestoga defeated Mt. Lebanon, 13-3, but the Pioneers went on to lose to district rival Avon Grove, 5-4, in double-overtime.
A WPIAL team never has won a state boys lacrosse title, let alone compete in a state championship game. Ermer believes better days are coming. And soon.
"I think we need to keep closing the gap and it's not necessarily a skill gap," Ermer said. "I think there's high-end talent on each side of the state and it's close to being equal. Our high-end guys can hang with their high-end guys, but it's just a matter of depth and consistency."