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Emmaus boys lacrosse passes Central Catholic’s physical test and advances to the EPC Championship
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Emmaus boys lacrosse passes Central Catholic’s physical test and advances to the EPC Championship

The Emmaus boys lacrosse team earned the top seed in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference tournament by going undefeated against local opposition this spring.

In their first postseason game of 2024, the Green Hornets got a taste of how hard teams will fight to keep the country from winning its first league title since 2012.

Top-seeded Emmaus trailed early but fought back to beat fourth-seeded Allentown Central Catholic 9-7 in an EPC semifinal at Al Erdosy Stadium in Northampton on Thursday evening.

The Hornets (18-1) will face third-seeded Easton, which defeated second-seeded Parkland 12-10 in the other semifinal, in the championship on Tuesday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. in Northampton.

Emmaus reached the final of the competition for the first time since 2021 by taking the Vikings’ best blow, not literally as a pushing match after the final whistle was fortunately quickly cut off and reacted.

“Oh, it hurt, it hurt. Everyone played very hard. They (Central Catholic) went really hard for all the ground balls, it was tough,” Emmaus senior midfielder Michael Chies said of the physical nature of the game. “It was a tough battle, they played great.”

The Hornets’ ability to adapt and ultimately thrive in a physical game was perhaps best epitomized by senior Jahkari Christian’s performance during the ‘X’ showdown.

Christian went four-for-six at the ‘X’ in the first quarter as Central Catholic built a 3-2 lead, then went 12-for-14 the rest of the way.

“The game starts and ends at the ‘X.’ Whichever team has more control usually comes out on top,” said Christian. “Just controlling the ‘X’ determines the momentum of the game, and momentum is extremely important here.”

Junior James McCarthy had a hand in all of the Vikings’ first three goals as he scored the opener at 1:29 and then added assists to freshman Quinn Driscoll and senior Luke Shimko.

“He’s getting better and better. James is a very crafty, intuitive player,” Central Catholic coach Will Odenthal said. “He moves very well off the ball and has a great shot. He’s kind of been the quiet quarterback of our offense.”

The Hornets got off to a fast start to the second quarter, scoring three goals in the first 1:54.

Chies scored shortly after Christian won the opening faceoff of the third quarter to tie the game at 3-3.

Senior Will Barber fed fellow senior Marcus Puentes, who scored with a low shot from long range, before Liam Rooney, another senior, scored 30 seconds later on a feed from behind the net from junior Jewlien Torres.

The Vikings weathered that storm and tied the game thanks to a quick goal from sophomore Liam Farrell four minutes into the third and fellow sophomore Tate Shoemaker’s score from a tight angle five minutes later.

With the score tied at 5-5 at halftime, Emmaus also started the third quarter strongly.

After Christian fought its way to another faceoff victory, junior Reilly Bechtel got the ball and scored 23 seconds into the third.

“I just had to really work it out, wanting more of it,” Chrisitan said. “I had two very good opponents (Central Catholic sophomore Mason Cesanek and freshman Luke Seiler) coming up against me, so I knew I would have to push myself today. I’m just happy that I was able to come out on top.”

Rooney extended the Hornets’ lead to 7-5 (1:42) in the third when he grabbed a ground ball on a save from Central Catholic junior goalie Chris Burke and scored.

Junior Michael Restino similarly scored with 2:20 left in the third, cutting the deficit to 7-6.

Chies restored Emmaus’ two-goal lead when he picked up a ground ball at midfield and made a pass to Rooney, whose shot was saved before Chies came up with another ground ball to score 1:44 into the fourth quarter.

“There’s nothing like a pole goal because it gives the team so much strength,” Chies said. “I think it’s a big deal if you get a pole and score, then the whole team gets excited, ready to go.”

Both Chies and Odenthal pointed to the Hornets’ use of ground balls in the second half as a deciding factor.

“More fighting for ground balls. We had more ground balls than I think they had in the second half,” said Chies, who led Emmaus with five ground balls. “That’s a big part of the game, it all leads to goals. We scored better in the second half and that also led to goals.”

“For us it is ball control. We didn’t have the ball under control in the second half. They beat us on the ground balls,” Odenthal said. “When you lose ground balls, you lose possession and they get the ball more than us and our defense gets tired.”

Emmaus took a three-goal lead for the first time midway through the fourth when Barber provided an assist to junior Kaleb Mains.

Barber scored the Hornets’ first two goals before his two assists. Chies and Rooney both scored twice. Emmaus senior goalkeeper Sam Rainford finished with 16 saves.

“We knew they were going to be a good team,” Rainford said. “We just had to be prepared to come back from something because we knew they were going to come out hard.”

The Hornets defeated Easton (14-4) 9-7 on April 21.

“They’re a tough team, they’re a physical team,” Chies said of Easton. “They’ve always been a physical team, but there’s nothing we can’t get around.”

McCarthy led the Vikings with two goals and three assists, while Shimko recorded one goal and two assists.

Central Catholic will now prepare for the District 11 Class 2A tournament. The Vikings won the D-11 2A title in 2021 and 2022 and lost to Northwestern Lehigh in the finals last year.

“I think we have to get better. We preach all year round, ‘You have to play your best lacrosse in May’… We’re playing pretty well, we’re not playing great,” Odenthal said. “We have to get things in order. Defensively, I think we’re playing as well as we’ve played all year. Offensively we had a bad night.”

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Desmond Boyle can be reached at [email protected].