By John Knebels
Sports Coumnist

PLYMOUTH MEETING – La Salle College High School’s lacrosse team wants to win a state championship again – badly.

But after the Explorers edged rival St. Joseph’s Preparatory School 7-5 in the Catholic League championship May 27 at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School, the only thing the players wanted to talk about was successfully increasing their title streak to seven.{{more}}

When considering that La Salle has seized 16 of a possible 18 league titles, it’s easy to understand why losing is not something the Explorers take lightly.

“This is so important to all of us,” said La Salle goalie John Lawlor. “Our school has had such a rich tradition, and it’s important that we keep that going.”

Lawlor made several key stops to match wits with Prep goalie Mike Zikoski. At no point was he able to relax because most of the game hung in the balance thanks to back and forth scoring. Although early on, it appeared as though the Hawks might be unstoppable.

The Prep (12-8 record), rebounding from a 2009 season after which most of its key players graduated, stunned the favored Explorers (17-2 heading into the PIAA tournament) by netting two first-quarter goals.

With their coaching staff preaching patience, the Explorers tied the game at 2 and then took a 4-3 lead into halftime. Leading 5-4 entering the fourth quarter, La Salle withstood a barrage of Prep offense and managed to increase its lead to 7-5.

When the final seconds ticked away, several members of a thoroughly exhausted Prep club slowly made their way to the sideline while the Explorers – once again – celebrated a championship against a team they have now met in the final for 10 consecutive seasons.

“It’s a great rivalry,” said La Salle coach Bill Leahy. “They go at each other hard all the time, and anything can happen in games like that.”

Prep coach Eric Gregg was proud of his team.

“It’s frustrating any time you lose, but we knew what we were up against and we did the best we could do,” said Gregg. “Both of us have very good teams, and this game could have gone either way. We battled and they hung on.”

For La Salle, Christian Cardinal netted a hat trick; for the Prep, Bradley James and Rob Watts scored two goals apiece.

Cardinal, a senior, said producing three goals in such an important game was certainly among the highlights of his career.

“We didn’t want to leave anything out there,” said Cardinal. “We couldn’t relax. They came at us hard in the beginning and then we got it tied, and it went back and forth from there. It was a great game.”

Should La Salle eventually capture its third straight state title, Lawlor said it will not eclipse winning the Catholic League crown.

“Both are great accomplishments,” he said. “Now that we won the Catholic League, it would be perfect to finish with a state championship.”

Leahy agreed.

“We have had to work for everything, and this will be no different,” he said.

John Knebels can be reached at