State College goalie Mike Hraba placed his head in his hands after watching the second goal in four minutes strike the back of the net.
He didn’t know it at the time — but that would be a recurring theme Saturday for the Little Lions’ boys’ lacrosse team.
State College couldn’t overcome the constant, early pressure from Mt. Lebanon during an 11-4 loss in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals at Hempfield Area’s Spartan Stadium. Hraba made several highlight-worthy saves, but he was fighting a no-win situation in the game’s opening 16 minutes — when Mt. Lebanon took a 6-0 lead.
“They came out with more pressure than we’ve seen all season,” added State College sophomore Ryan Franks, who scored two goals.
Mt. Lebanon, the No. 2 seed out of District 7, controlled the ball two to three minutes at a time and — thanks to the non-stop defensive pressure — would routinely watch State College turn the ball over within 30 seconds, then pass a dozen times while waiting for the right shot to open up on offense.
Midway through the second quarter, State College still trailed by six goals.
“Their defensive pressure is what made them tough,” Little Lions coach Jeffrey King said. “They were able to get the ball out of our end of the field quickly, and our guys didn’t handle the pressure quite as well as they did the other night.”
At that point, some Little Lions rested their hands on their hips. Others just stared at their feet or shook their heads. So King called a timeout — and reminded his team that this is where they belonged, that there was enough time to rally.
King’s squad took those words to heart.
With less than three minutes left in the first half, Franks scored his pair of goals to cut the deficit to 6-2. “We needed that,” one of Franks’ teammates said on the sideline, while taking a swig of water. The Little Lions scored another goal to open the third quarter to further cut the deficit to 6-3.
“After that first quarter, we kind of got used to the pressure,” senior Mike Mato said. “And we realized we can take them.”
That realization came too late, however.
Mt. Lebanon outscored State College by a narrow 5-4 margin in the game’s final 32 minutes, but the damage was already done after the Little Lions’ 6-0 hole in the first 16 minutes. State College never came closer than a three-goal deficit after the Blue Devils’ early run.
“It still says a lot about the character of the whole team that we kept pushing, and to come back a little bit,” Franks said.
Added King: “The hustle was there in the second half. We just weren’t able to play our game early on.”
Mt. Lebanon will now advance to the semifinals, where it will face Conestoga on Tuesday. For State College, the boys’ lacrosse season is over.
This wasn’t the ending that the boys’ lacrosse team envisioned but, for Mato, it was still a season he won’t forget.
“We had a pretty rough beginning of the year but, since that, we’ve really come back — and it feels pretty good to think a bout that,” he said. “I definitely think we could’ve maybe played a little better in this game. But, all in all, I’d say I’m pretty happy with this season.”