Two highly motivated teams should provide plenty of excitement when North Allegheny and top-seeded Mt. Lebanon meet for the WPIAL Division I boys lacrosse championship tonight at Baldwin Stadium.
Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m.
"Mt. Lebanon is always a good program," said North Allegheny coach John Rullan, moments after his second-seeded Tigers scored five unanswered second-half goals to break a halftime tie and forge a 9-5 victory against No. 3 Shady Side Academy in the second semifinal on Monday night at Baldwin.
"Our kids didn't quit," Rullan said. "Our kids played hard, and they knew they had to play hard to beat this team. They put together a run of four goals and that was the difference."
In the earlier game, Mt. Lebanon seized control after giving up the first goal of the game and went on to post a 17-9 victory against fourth-seeded Peters Township.
The appearance in the championship game means both North Allegheny and Mt. Lebanon will advance to the PIAA Division I tournament that begins next week.
North Allegheny improved to 11-6 with the victory. Mt. Lebanon, which is expected to move up to No. 1 in Laxpower.com's regional rankings after defeating Peters Township, is 15-4.
Going into Monday's action, North Allegheny was the No. 3 team in the regional rankings. The two teams met in a non-section game in the regular season and Mt. Lebanon secured a 9-6 victory. Memories of that game and Graham's impact as an offensive force are topics familiar to Rullan.
"Doran [Graham] is probably their key player [from behind the goal]," the North Allegheny coach said. "They have six or seven kids who can play. It won't be easy, but we'll give it our best shot."
Graham, who scored five goals on Monday night, now has scored 57 goals and dished out 19 assists on the season. Sophomore attack Sam White added four goals, while senior Tim McNichol chipped in three.
Mt. Lebanon surrendered the first goal of the game with 7:56 left in the first quarter when Peters Township's Mario Toscano cut across the front of the Blue Devils' goal and rifled a shot above goalie Will Nabors' right shoulder.
But the Blue Devils, who got a goal from Graham in the dying minutes of the 10-9 regular-season win against the Indians, needed no last-minute dramatics as they scored eight unanswered goals to put the game virtually out of reach. White's third goal of the game with 5:31 left in the second quarter gave Mt. Lebanon an 8-1 lead.
The Indians, though, got goals from Connor Pike and Cory Sheetz in the final 30 seconds of the first half to cut the deficit to 8-3. Graham said the Indians' late burst in the second quarter was a flashback to the regular-season meeting.
"[We were leading], 6-3, at halftime," he recalled. "We let them back into the game in the second half, and we really didn't play well."
With that in mind, Graham said the Blue Devils had an antidote for the Indians' attack.
"Our emphasis was to come out and keep the foot on the gas pedal," he said. "We needed to keep plugging and keep playing our game and not take stupid penalties and give them opportunities."
Right on cue, the Blue Devils scored just 26 seconds into the second half when Graham fed White with a beautiful pass to increase the Blue Devils' advantage to 9-3. That sparked a 6-3 third-quarter run that increased the Mt. Lebanon lead to 14-6 and allowed the Blue Devils to look ahead to today.
Which is where they will find a North Allegheny team that has won six consecutive games following a 9-6 non-section loss to Upper St. Clair on April 25.
"North Allegheny is a well-coached team, and they will have a comprehensive game plan," Mt, Lebanon coach Mike Ermer said. "They have some big defense-men and athletes all over the field. This should be a fun game to watch."
He's impressed with two Tigers attack players, Alec McGovern and Joe Griffin.
McGovern led the Tigers with three goals. And, to confirm Ermer's assessment about North Allegheny's balance, the Tigers got single tallies from five other players -- Griffin, Stephen Kelleher, Scott Davis, Kyle Rullan and Dan Briskey -- to secure the victory.
Griffin was a standout player for the state champion North Allegheny hockey team. He's been able to translate those skills from ice to turf, and Ermer is impressed.
"He has a tremendous ability to be able to transfer his skills like that," the Mt. Lebanon coach said.
Both coaches are happy that their teams will be participating in the PIAA tournament.
"It used to be three [WPIAL teams to qualify for the state playoffs]," Rullan recalled. "But we'll try to represent the WPIAL with some class in the state tournament. But we're going to try to win [tonight] and go on from there."
First Published May 23, 2013 4:00 AM