After failing to protect a fourth-quarter lead in a 9-8 loss to Mt. Lebanon in the WPIAL Division I boys lacrosse championship game, North Allegheny wanted some revenge against the Blue Devils.
"We thought we would get Lebo again at states," North Allegheny coach John Rullan said. "That was driving us."
The Tigers and Blue Devils were on a path to meet in the quarterfinals of the PIAA tournament. North Allegheny won its first-round state tournament game against State College, 11-3, but got a surprise when it contacted the Blue Devils later that night.
"We texted some of our Mt. Lebanon buddies and found out they lost," North Allegheny senior captain Ryan Mauro said. "We were a little bummed."
So instead, North Allegheny got to face Carlisle, and the Tigers completely shut down the Thundering Herd (18-4) in a 9-5 victory Saturday to advance to the semifinals.
It's much further than the Tigers (13-8) were expected to advance heading into the season.
But their surprising run came to a close Tuesday with a 14-1 loss to La Salle College High of Philadelphia, which was ranked No. 3 in the country by laxpower.com.
"We've been the underdogs throughout the season," Mauro said. "No one was expecting us to get this far."
The Tigers didn't qualify for the WPIAL tournament last season, but they used great goaltending and a balanced offensive attack to be the last district team standing. In net, the team started with two very good goaltenders in seniors John Abbondanza and John Brandon. Abbondanza is a Robert Morris recruit, but he has missed the stretch run because of concussion-like symptoms.
The Tigers haven't missed a beat, however, with Brandon, who stopped nine shots in holding the Thundering Herd to eight fewer goals than they scored against Mt. Lebanon.
"[Brandon] has been outstanding," Mauro said. "He's really stepped up in the playoffs. ... I think he's gotten better now that's he's playing all the time in practice and not having to split time in games,"
Offensively, the Tigers have several players who shouldered the load this season. In the victory against Carlisle, Alec McGovern and Joe Griffin combined for five goals, but the Tigers also got one goal each from Mauro, Kyle Rullan, Zach Smith and Jess Keeley.
"We've had more talent in other years, but we've never had this kind of depth," said John Rullan, who has coached the team since 2002-03. "We've never had a so-called second line that is just as good as the first, like we do this year."
Rullan said the team started out slowly this season, but has come on strong with wins in eight of its past nine games. The turning points were an overtime victory against Seneca Valley and a regular-season victory against traditional power Shady Side Academy.
The Tigers then beat the Indians a second time in the WPIAL semifinals.
"We weren't supposed to beat them one time, let alone twice," Mauro said. "I think before that second game [against Shady Side Academy], there were still some doubts out there. So it was nice to put those to rest."
That victory also qualified North Allegheny for the state tournament, where the Tigers have advanced further than any previous Tigers' squad.
"It's been an excellent senior season for me and I'm super proud of this team," Mauro said. "It would have been nice to win the WPIAL title, but sometimes it doesn't go your way. But we made the state tournament and went further than any other [NA] team has before."