Mike McBride, the fourth-year coach for the Peters Township High School boys lacrosse team, figured his defenders would have to shoulder most of the load for the Indians this season.
His hopes for success this season have been pleasantly rewarded as the Indians were 13-1 heading into Wednesday's game at winless Trinity (0-11). They will close the regular season Friday at North Allegheny (6-6).
Peters Township fields the top-ranked team in both the Post-Gazette's Division I boys ratings and among all boys teams in Western Pennsylvania, according to Laxpower.com.
"I didn't think we'd be undefeated [for as long as we were]," said McBride, whose team suffered its first loss in an emotionally charged 10-9 loss to Division I, Section 1 rival Mt. Lebanon on April 24. "But we regrouped [two days later with a 12-8 victory] against Butler."
The 10 goals the Blue Devils scored were the most goals surrendered by the Indians in one game this season.
The coach said his team's stinginess can be traced to the experience of his senior-dominated defense on a team in which most of the offensive firepower is being generated by underclassmen.
"Our four leaders on defense are goalie John Smith and defenders Nick Tost, Chase McIntyre and Jeff Berry," McBride said. "John is a two-year starter, and Nick has been a captain for two years and all-section last year. We told these guys that we'd have to rely on the defense because the offense is so young."
McBride said Peters Township would welcome another opportunity to play Mt. Lebanon if the two teams meet again in the WPIAL playoffs. He said the loss was a growing experience for his team, especially the Indians' young offense.
"The last four minutes of the game decided it," the coach recalled. "It was tied 9-9, and we turned the ball over with about two-and-a-half minutes to go. Some of our young guys just weren't on the same page. They got the ball and scored on a fast break.
"Still, we had some opportunities and had three or four shots on goal in the last 1:20. But we had our opportunities and would absolutely love to play them again if we get that opportunity."
Other than the 10 goals surrendered in the loss to Mt. Lebanon, the Indians have held two opponents to one goal, and they have given up six or fewer goals on eight occasions.
En route to a near-perfect season, Peters Township has had some close calls. Twice, the Indians have secured one-goal victories in triumphs against Sewickley Academy, 7-6, and first-year Division I member Hampton, 5-4. Added to the one-goal loss to Mt. Lebanon, the Indians have played in three one-goal games this season, and they've won four other games by four or fewer goals.
The coach believes those close experiences will help his team when the WPIAL Division I playoffs begin this month.
"[Playing in close games] does help," he said. "We had that experience against Hampton and Sewickley, and our game against Mt. Lebanon had a championship atmosphere to it.
"We know what it takes to compete at that level, and we have to have that [knowledge] going forward in the next few weeks."
As his defense has plenty of experience, McBride is pleased with a young offense that seems to be improving with each game. Three juniors -- Cody Sheetz, Derek Bacchiochi and Andrew Rao -- all have scored 22 or more goals this season for Peters Township.
Going into this week, Bacchiochi led the team with 30 goals and 16 assists, while Sheetz has been an effective playmaker with 23 assists to go with 27 goals. Rao has notched 22 goals and three assists. Another junior, Connor Pike, has 17 goals and 15 assists.
Those statistics are impressive, but McBride said his team would be a pale imitation of what it is right now if not for the impressive play generated by faceoff specialist Christian Coleman.
A junior, Coleman has won 70 percent of his faceoffs, allowing the Indians to set up many scoring opportunities.
"We're big on getting those extra possessions," McBride said. "[Those faceoff wins] are keeping us in games that are close."
Hampton assistant coach Sam Happel is impressed with the Indians.
"I think they play as a team," said Happel, recalling Peters Township's 5-4 victory against the Talbots. "That was a clean game with just a few minor penalties. They have a strong goalie and are well-coached. But I'd love to see them again."
As his Indians focus on finishing the regular season on a high note and getting ready for the playoffs, McBride looks forward to the day when a WPIAL team will be able to hoist a PIAA championship trophy. But he said that moment is some time off.
"There's a lot more parity [among Eastern teams]," he said. "Our top three teams still have a ways to go against [the East's] Top Ten. We're still a couple of years away."hsother