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Mars becomes 1st WPIAL team to win state lacrosse crown

History Lesson
Members of the Mars boys lacrosse team reach for the state championship trophy after defeating Marple Newtown, 9-6, in the PIAA title game Saturday in West Chester. Submitted Photo

WEST CHESTER — A very strong Marple Newtown squad was not the only thing weighing on Mars’ boys lacrosse team.

No WPIAL team had ever won a state lacrosse title, so the Planets also shouldered the burden of what many people believed they could not accomplish.

For over a decade, WPIAL teams saw their hopes of PIAA gold wither once the state playoffs began, including Mars’ loss in the final to Allentown Central Catholic last year. The Planets stared down all of those disappointments Saturday afternoon.

History blinked.

A dominant second quarter gave Mars valuable breathing room before it defused a Marple Newtown rally to defeat the Tigers, 9-6, in the Class 2A championship game at Harold Zimmerman Stadium.

Mars shows who’s No. 1 after winning the PIAA Class 2A boys lacrosse championship Saturday. The Planets became the first WPIAL team to ever win a state lacrosse title. Submitted Photo

“This title is for all the WPIAL teams,” said Mars senior Wesley Scurci, who scored the game’s final goal with 30 seconds remaining. “Those teams from non-hot bed (lacrosse) areas, this shows that it can be done.”

Mars led 7-5 entering the fourth quarter, but it seemed a tenuous advantage after the Tigers scored the final three goals of the third period — two by Ryan Keating and one from Charlie Box with just six seconds left in the quarter.

But the Planets’ defense returned to form over the final 12 minutes, allowing only Keating’s goal that cut Mars’ edge to 8-6 with 2:39 left.

Jack Dunham had scored four minutes earlier against Marple goalie Jack Welsh to put the Planets up 8-5.

“When it was 7-5, I really felt that the next goal was going to be determinant,” said Mars coach Bob Marcoux. “We knew we’d have to be strong defensively to stay in the game. We put Quinn (Fuller, senior defender) 1-on-1 with Brian Box and he pretty much took him out of the game.

Brian Box, a freshman phenom, and his older brother, senior Charlie, combined for over 200 points this season. The latter scored twice Saturday.

Marple tallied 27 shots. Six found their mark, 10 were off-target and the other 11 were stopped by Mars junior goalie Jonathan Grieco, who played an incredible second half with nine stops.

“He came up with some big, I mean critical saves down the stretch,” Marcoux said.

The final clutch denial came shortly after the Tigers (20-5) had trimmed their deficit to 8-6. They got the ball to sophomore Joey Yukenevitch, who let loose with a shot just feet in front of Grieco. Despite being off-balance, the goalie made the stop with 1:05 on the clock.

“You get two great teams together and things happen ... we hit some pipes,” said Tigers’ coach Kevin Merchant. “We battled all year and always played with a never-give-up attitude, but Mars is a heckuva team.”

Grieco’s final save came with six seconds left and he began to celebrate the championship with a high-arcing clear that landed 60 yards downfield. Mars’ bench erupted as reserves joined players on the field in a mass frenzy.

Grieco missed the first half of the campaign with a knee injury sustained during wrestling season.

“I can’t say I was fully ready today, but it was enough and that’s all that matters,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about this since I was a little kid. To win it with all of these guys, it means everything to me.”

The Planets (23-1) trailed just once, briefly, in the first quarter. Damien Bogsch scored for the Tigers 3:32 into the game and it took Mars’ Austin Cote just 50 seconds to earn the equalizer.

Enzo Grieco found the net for the Planets later in the period.

With the game tied at two as the second quarter began, Mars began to dominate. Cote scored his second of three goals just 43 seconds after play resumed and Kyle McEwen and Enzo Grieco followed with scores.

Ian Edinger and Jack McKenzie were consistently giving the ball back to the Planets with wins on faceoffs and the Tigers were searching for answers. They were pushed further against the ropes when Dunham scored his first goal with just six seconds left in the half for a 6-2 lead.

“It’s all about possession,” said Marcoux. “When we get it, we can be pretty lethal on offense. Austin Cote, he’s just an incredible player.”

Cote struck again for the first score of the third quarter, putting the Tigers in a 7-2 hole with 8:02 remaining in the period. Marple began its failed rally just over two minutes later.

Limiting the Tigers was also due to the Planets changing their normal quick-strike strategy for much of the game.

“They’re really good in transition and we had to play more conservative today,” Scurci said.

Welsh stopped seven shots for the Tigers.

Mars’ victory was perhaps made a bit sweeter after losing here a year ago.

“We made a vow to get back as we were walking off the field last year,” said Marcoux. “But you don’t just get back here. You have to wait a year, put all that hard work in again and these guys did it. It’s a very determined bunch.”