Since a 9-7 victory over Hampton that earned it a section title, the Mars boys lacrosse program has perfected the art of dominating triumphs. Since that meaningful two-goal victory over the Talbots, Mars won four of its next five games by double-digit margins, the latest an 18-8 triumph over Erie Cathedral Prep in a PIAA Class 2A first-round game this past Tuesday at North Allegheny's Newman Stadium.
Now on an eight-game winning streak, Mars travels to State College High School for a 2 p.m. game Saturday with District 3 runner-up Hershey in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals. The 16-7 Trojans advanced with a 16-6 victory over WPIAL runner-up Quaker Valley. Hershey's three-game winning streak was snapped with a 9-8 loss to Palmyra in the District 3 championship game. Any hoped-for rematch for the Trojans with Palmyra was vanquished when the Cougars lost a first-round game to Strath Haven, 15-9.
A year ago, some of Mars players -- particularly the seniors -- were somewhat wistful as they knew they wouldn't get the chance to compete in the first-ever PIAA Class AA boys lacrosse tournament.
But for awhile this past Tuesday against the District 10 champion Ramblers, it appeared as if the Planets' first foray beyond a WPIAL tournament would be a short one.
That's because the Ramblers took a 2-1 lead with 8:45 left in the first quarter on an unassisted goal by John-Paul Stark.
Not long after that -- with 6:03 left in the opening period -- Mars coach Bob Marcoux called a timeout.
His message was to the point.
"I told them we had to start playing Mars lacrosse," he said. "I didn't recognize that team that started out. I'm not sure if we were tight or a little nervous or maybe a little overconfident. We didn't come out with our usual enthusiasm. I told them to get back to what we do which is win ground balls and play Mars lacrosse."
The attitude adjustment pitch worked to perfection as the Planets ended the quarter on a 4-0 run for a 5-2 lead and would put the game away with four more goals to open the second quarter.
"They had the ball, and we had a number of mental breakdowns," Cathedral Prep coach Nate Reichel said. "Defensively, once we were able to force a stop, we'd give the ball right back to them. Nothing's more frustrating than making a good defensive stand and trying to transition the ball to the offensive side and not being able to do that."
Junior attack players Anthony Grieco and Cade Hetzler led the Mars offense with four goals apiece. Sophomore attack Mike Doyle came off the bench to score three goals, while Hayden Vasbinder added two goals.
"That's huge," Marcoux said of the balance. "We were missing [midfielder] Ben Lewis, who was out with [an illness]. He's one of our better scorers. Other teams know he's a good shooter."
Marcoux believes Lewis will be back for Saturday's game with Hershey.
Junior midfielder Jake Emerson -- who has committed to Mercyhurst -- paced the Ramblers with four goals.
The balance for Mars was noticeable. The outstanding point for Reichel was the Planets' unselfishness. Mars had 10 assists, and senior midfielder -- and face-off specialist -- Joe Horvat had four of them to go with a goal.
"What it comes down to is that you have to have the ball," the Mars coach said. "I don't know what the face-off stat [was], and I don't care how good your defense is, but they are going to get tired. Our guys broke down and those easy looks were there. Their guys play unselfishly. That's why you see those guys with multiple goals. Ten of the 18 goals were assisted. Once there was a [defensive] slide, they'd bang the ball around pretty quickly and they were able to capitalize."
What also helped the Planets was the solid play of senior goalie Jack Austin, who had six saves.
"Jack's been consistent for us all year and has made the big save when we needed it," Marcoux said. "Jack's going to make the saves he's supposed to make and some spectacular ones, too. He's pretty good on [clearing passes], and that helps us a lot."
Following an 8-7 loss to Palmyra, Hershey has won four of its past five games with the only blemish in that run a 9-8 District 3 playoff championship loss to Palmyra. With Palmyra out of the tournament, Hershey must guard against looking ahead. That likely won't be a concern as the Planets likely will give the Trojans plenty to think about.