North/East Xtra: Shady Side shows it's finally the best

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Motivation is such a driving force in athletics. For two Shady Side Academy senior lacrosse standouts -- goalie Tucker Gillman and attack Dan Marous -- there was plenty of that quality as their team prepared to take on Mt. Lebanon this past Friday night in the WPIAL Division I boys lacrosse championship at Highmark Stadium in Station Square.

The Indians pulled away from a 1-1 halftime tie with the Blue Devils on the strength of three third-quarter goals by Marous to capture a 7-2 victory against the defending champion Blue Devils.

Both teams advanced to the PIAA Division I tournament that began Wednesday afternoon. Shady Side met Manheim Township, the fourth-place team from District 3 at Hempfield Area High School, while Mt. Lebanon played District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep at Mercyhurst University.

Victories by both the Indians and Blue Devils would ensure a rematch in the tournament's quarterfinals on Saturday. The championship game will be played at 2:30 p.m. June 7 at Hersheypark Stadium.

Gillman and his teammates knew that regardless of the outcome of Friday night's game, there would be at least one more game before the equipment would be packed away and the memories of a well-played season would begin.

But there's something about cradling a WPIAL championship trophy and seeing a gold medal draped around one's neck to motivate a high school athlete.

"I was rooting for Lebo [in the semifinal against North Allegheny] because I wanted to beat them," said Gillman, who recorded 10 saves against the Blue Devils. "If you want to be the best you've got to beat the best."

Gillman's logic was flawless as Mt. Lebanon has won three WPIAL titles -- 2009, 2001 and 2013 -- in the time the organization sanctioned lacrosse as a sport. The Blue Devils defeated the Indians, 3-2, in the 2009 title game. Shady Side's other title experience was an 8-5 loss to Seneca Valley in the 2012 championship game. That loss remained with Gillman -- a Georgetown recruit -- in the two years that it took place.

"We lost when all of these seniors were sophomores," he said. "I've slept with that silver medal next to my bed for two years. Now, I have a gold medal, and there's no better feeling."

While Gillman got to hold the championship trophy briefly, it was Marous who lovingly clutched it after he and his teammates gathered for team photos and celebrated on the Highmark Stadium turf.

Marous, who will attend the University of Notre Dame and hopes to play lacrosse there, believed that his team would eventually catch fire after he and his teammates left the field at halftime deadlocked with the Blue Devils.

"It's a game of flows," said Marous who entered the PIAA tournament with 59 goals this season. "We were battling punch for punch in the first half, and in the second half, we got a chance. We took it and ran with it. Once you get one goal, you feel like you can score a million. You get that first one, and it comes naturally."

Marous said the team's explosive second-half effort which yielded three more goals in the fourth quarter began in the Indians' end of the field.

"Everything starts with our defense," he said. "When they get those takeaway checks and [ground balls] and the offense gets those assists, that's what we thrive off."

For Marous, the dream of clutching a WPIAL team trophy was finally realized.

"This is a dream come true," he said. "I've been playing four sports, and the one dream you have before you leave high school is to get a WPIAL championship. To do it in your last chance is amazing."

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