South Xtra: Lebo's state playoff run in lacrosse is semi-sweet

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Mike Ermer said his lacrosse coach at Denison University, Mike Caravana, used to tell his players consistency is quality.

Along those lines, no team in the area has produced the quality of Ermer's squad at Mt. Lebanon.

In Ermer's five seasons, Mt. Lebanon has won two WPIAL titles and has advanced to the PIAA semifinals three times.

"I think it speaks to our feeder system -- the middle school and youth programs," Ermer said. "I also think it speaks to the lacrosse culture in Mt. Lebanon. Kids growing up here walk around with lacrosse sticks in their hands. They want to become lacrosse players."

And it doesn't appear the Blue Devils will be falling off any time soon. The 2014 squad, which advanced to the PIAA semifinals with a 7-6 victory Saturday against Shady Side in a rematch of the WPIAL final won by the Indians, is led by mostly sophomores and juniors. The Blue Devils fell to nationally ranked Penncrest, 15-10, in the semifinals Tuesday, ending their season.

Mt. Lebanon's top three scorers will be back next season. Junior Brian Kelly leads the team in points with 62 (27 goals, 35 assists), while the team's top two goal scorers, Brian Ward (40 goals) and Dan Lee (31) are sophomores.

Ward had three goals in the first half of Saturday's game against Shady Side Academy, while Lee finished with two goals and an assist.

Lee's older brother, junior goalkeeper Matt Lee, has also been a crucial piece of the puzzle for the Blue Devils. A first-year varsity starter, Matt Lee has continually improved throughout the season and came up big Saturday with nine saves, including one on the Indians' top scorer, Dan Marous, in the final minute to preserve a one-goal lead.

"At this time of the year, sophomores are no longer sophomores and juniors are no longer juniors," Ermer said. "Because of the experience they've gotten, they're more like juniors and seniors.

"Matt is a junior, but he's playing more like a senior now. He's shown a lot more consistency as the season has gone along."

As Ermer mentioned, most of his players, even the relatively inexperienced ones, have grown up in a lacrosse culture in Mt. Lebanon.

That may be rare in this part of the state, but it's not in the eastern half.

The Blue Devils previously advanced two times to the semifinals, they lost by a combined 19 goals to the District 12 champion. On Tuesday, they lost by five goals to District 1 champion, Penncrest.

Both District 1 and District 12 are made up of team's from the Philadelphia region and Ermer is hoping the quality of play in lacrosse for the western part of the state will catch up to the east.

"In the Philadelphia area, there are just a ton of teams that are good and deep," Ermer said. "It's a different world out there. You could make the argument that high school lacrosse in the Philadelphia area is the best in the nation.

"So many of the team's out there have that lacrosse culture, which isn't the case as much here. But we're coming along and getting stronger."

And the district's movement is led by the Blue Devils.

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