Mike Ermer cautions his Mt. Lebanon High School team not to expect a berth annually in the WPIAL Division I boys lacrosse tournament.
That's what has happened for the Blue Devils since Ermer became the team's head coach in 2010, but he still doesn't consider it a "guarantee."
"We never think it's a given," said Ermer, whose team played host to Franklin Regional in a quarterfinal game Wednesday night. "Each year, we talk about team goals. Our first goal is to win the [section title] and assure ourselves of a spot in the playoffs. That's something we've done the past four years."
So far, so good for the 13-4 Blue Devils, the top-ranked team in the Post-Gazette's Division I boys lacrosse rankings and No. 2 behind regional rival Peters Township, according to Laxpower.com.
When section honors are being distributed, however, it will be the Blue Devils who can hoist a banner as Mt. Lebanon edged Peters Township, 10-9, in an epic showdown on April 22 that is the only blemish for the 14-1 Indians. Mt. Lebanon won Division I, Section I with a 6-0 record. Peters Township finished at 5-1.
"What I remember about that game is that Peters did a good job keeping its composure," Ermer said. "I told our guys that 10 is the magic number in a lacrosse game. If you can score 10 or more goals, you have a good chance of winning, especially if you keep the other team to under 10 goals."
With about two minutes to go, the score was tied 9-9 when the Blue Devils were able to secure a ground ball (lacrosse's version of a fumble in football) and get it to the team's leading scorer, Doran Graham.
"Doran was able to go in on a fast break and score," Ermer said. "[Peters Township] had a couple of chances to tie the game, but our goalie Will Nabors made a couple of nice saves."
Graham, a U.S. Lacrosse All-American attack a year ago as a junior, leads the Blue Devils with 50 goals and 15 assists going into the playoffs. Sophomore attack Brian Kelly has been proficient as a scorer and playmaker with 24 goals and 30 assists. It turned out he was a quick study.
"I was going to play him at midfield, but Louis Lucerne tore the [anterior cruciate ligament] in his right knee in the first week of practice, and we had to move Brian to attack," Ermer said.
The third attack in Ermer's lineup is sophomore Sam White, who has scored 23 goals and dished out seven assists.
Plenty of offense also has been generated from the team's three midfielders -- seniors Chris O'Dell and Tim McNichol and freshman Brian Ward. The trio has combined to score 53 goals and dish out 30 assists.
Backstopping the team is Nabors, a senior who is in his second season as the Mt. Lebanon goalie.
"Will is a very good athlete with an outstanding outlet pass," Ermer said. "He communicates well with the guys and doesn't get too high or too low. He's just a 'Steady Eddie' kind of guy. Will is the kind of guy who doesn't get down if he doesn't make a save, but he does see each save as crucial, and he tries to stay consistent through the game."
All of those statistics, however, might be far lower if it weren't for the effort supplied by senior faceoff specialist Jack McMahon.
"Faceoff specialist is not a glamorous position," Ermer said. "But it is a staple of lacrosse. You need a good goalie and a good faceoff guy if you want to have a good team. With Will in goal and Jack as my faceoff guy, that puts my mind at ease."
Ermer sees a bright future for lacrosse in Mt. Lebanon.
"I see a lot of goals in the backyards in Mt. Lebanon, and a lot of kids have sticks in their hands and want to play on the high school level one of these days," Ermer said.
"I think the coaches in our youth program have done a great job teaching the game. They certainly make my job easier. We have 62 players on our varsity and junior varsity teams, and all of them practice together. Everyone is coached by the same coaches, and we want to have that continuity with this program and for our players to be accountable to each other."
One big change from a year ago is that only two teams from the WPIAL will qualify for the PIAA Division I tournament. In previous years, the semifinal losers would meet in a consolation game to determine the WPIAL's third representative in the PIAA tournament.
Ermer said one qualifying spot was taken away from the WPIAL because more teams are competing in Central Pennsylvania.
"Everyone knows now there is no safety net [at the WPIAL tournament]," he said. "Now there's a little more pressure to get to that championship game."
Senior midfielder Tim McNichol tries to get around Seneca Valley defender Joshua Headley during a game earlier this season. The Blue Devils played Franklin Regional in the WPIAL Division I playoffs last night.
First Published May 16, 2013 4:00 AM