Shady Side Academy coach Michael Williams knew that his team would face a tall challenge when it met Mt. Lebanon this past Saturday in a PIAA Division I lacrosse tournament quarterfinal game at Moon.
"Mt. Lebanon always gives us a four-quarter game," said Williams, shortly after his team's 7-6 loss to the Blue Devils.
Mt. Lebanon met Penncrest in a PIAA semifinal game Tuesday at Cumberland Valley High. Mt. Lebanon lost that game, 15-10.
The series between the two teams turned out to be a best-of-three. Mt. Lebanon won the regular-season match against Shady Side, 5-4, on March 31. The Indians evened the season series with a 7-2 victory in the WPIAL Division I championship game May 23 at Highmark Stadium.
"It doesn't matter what the score is," Williams said. "We're always battling, and that's what we're about."
The Indians also had plenty of experience, and that will be noticeable in 2015 as nine team members have graduated.
Foremost among the departing players is senior attack/midfielder Dan Marous, who led the team with 63 goals and 32 assists. A captain in four sports at Shady Side, Marous plans to play lacrosse at Notre Dame, the NCAA runner-up this season.
"This was something special," Marous said. "I started out freshman year with an average team that lost, 20-7, to North Allegheny in the first round of the WPIALs, and to take it all the way to a WPIAL championship this year is something I'll never forget. We just asked the team to go 100 percent 100 percent of the time, and they did it."
Mt. Lebanon bottled up Marous for most of the game this past Saturday, but his two goals both came in the fourth quarter when the Indians battled back from a 7-3 deficit with his second goal, slicing the deficit to 7-6. But that's as close as the Indians would get.
"I took shots, but they just weren't going in," he said. "But you keep at it, and you don't shy away. I just kept at it, and I got the one goal that went through."
Marous' attempt to tie the score at 7-7 with 56 seconds left in the game was blunted when Mt. Lebanon goalie Matthew Lee made a quality save. Also leaving is another attack/midfielder, Michael Concordia, who scored 29 goals and dished out 26 assists.
But the cupboard isn't entirely bare as a pair of juniors -- attack Alec Bernstein and midfielder Robby Woodings -- will return. Bernstein had 29 goals and 6 assists, while Woodings had 18 goals, 15 assists and an 89 percent success rate on faceoffs. Sophomore attack Max Jaffe was a reliable playmaker with 20 assists to go with 12 goals.
Defensively, the team has its work cut out for it as goalie Tucker Gillman is off to Avon Old Farms, a prep school in Connecticut, before he begins his college career at Georgetown. Gillman was stellar in goal, allowing just 3.7 goals per game. He also had three assists this season.
"We're a team that never gives up," Gillman said. "We had it in us to make a comeback and win it. No matter the deficit, this team has a lot of heart. You can only score one-point goals, but all of those little plays -- those little groundballs -- add up to be big plays. That's just going hard and selling out, and that's the bond we share on this team. We're going to give 100 percent for each other."
Gillman's comments confirmed what Williams saw all season in his first year as the team's coach.
"We bend, but we don't break," he said. "That's because of our senior captains. When they understand it's their time, they know when to step up.
"The way we held [Mt. Lebanon] was from our seniors, and the way we scored was from our seniors. They've built a foundation for the program. We had juniors, sophomores and freshmen who played [against Mt. Lebanon]. We'll look for them [to lead] and lean on them for next year."