By JEFF KERR
HERSHEY -- Tanner Peck was the last player to leave the field, wondering what could have been for Avon Grove.
The senior could have been reminiscing of a spectacular four-year career for the Red Devils, but it was too soon for that.
Regardless of the result, Peck refused to hang is head after an historic season in West Grove.
"We were all proud to represent our school and to bring our community together,' Peck said. "This was 13 years in the making to make an impact. We put in hard work to get here and I wouldn't trade any of these 17 seniors for anyone else in the state. It was a huge honor to play in this game.'
Despite a valiant fourth quarter effort, Avon Grove put itself in a huge deficit as the Red Devils went 25:37 without a goal in a 12-7 loss to Penncrest in the PIAA championship at Hersheypark Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Avon Grove (20-5) finished second in the state; the best finish in school history. The result wasn't what head coach Eric Jackson and the Red Devils expected once they arrived in Hershey, but Jackson was still proud of the incredible season his team accomplished.
"These kids have nothing to hang their heads about,' Jackson said. "They had so much class on and off the field to their school, community, families and each other. I'm extremely proud of them.'
The Red Devils had one goal before they arrived in Hershey; to be the only team in the playoffs to win its final game. That goal looked well on its way to being accomplished in the first quarter.
Peck got Avon Grove on the board first with a turn-around goal to put the Red Devils up 1-0 with 9:24 left in the opening quarter.
It didn't take long for Peck to double that lead. The senior blasted one past Penncrest goalie Dylan McCleaft to make it 2-0.
After Ethan Trusty made it 2-1, Beau Kush scored in transition to give Avon Grove back its two goal lead with 58.1 seconds left in the quarter. The Red Devils led 3-1 at that point.
For the next 25:37, it was all Penncrest.
Dylan Protesto won 18 of his first 19 faceoffs as Penncrest dominated possession throughout the second quarter. The result ended in four consecutive goals by Will Manganiello to give Penncrest a 5-3 lead heading into the half.
"They controlled the faceoff and it's hard to do much when you can't get the ball,' Jackson said. "Anthony (Cardile) did an excellent job all season there and battled against one of the best in the state (Protesto). Protesto is just very good in the X.'
Despite being held scoreless in the second, Avon Grove had its chances to cut the Lions lead. Bryce Reid had a chance to score on a one-timer in transition with 1:28 left in the half, but McCleaft was there to make the save and keep it 5-3.
Penncrest continued controlling possession in the third, but scored goals quick. Drew Hanna scored with 6:29 left in the quarter followed by Manganiello's fifth goal of the game 51 seconds later to make it 7-3.
Late in the third, the Lions scored two goals from Billy Kinnard and Alex Bonnett in an 18-second span to make it 9-3, their largest lead of the game.
Facing a six-goal deficit entering the fourth, the opportunity to win its first state title was slipping away for the Red Devils.
That didn't matter to Will Schreiner and the 16 other seniors on the team. They still had that winning mentality despite all the odds against them.
"One of the great things about this team is we never get down,' Schreiner said. "We're such a tight-knit group and everyone has each other's back. We all love each other and just decided to play for each other in our last quarter.'
The message was received for Avon Grove. Eric Russo got the Red Devils back in the game with three unanswered goals in a 2:29 span to cut the deficit to 9-6 with 9:10 left.
The Red Devils forced Penncrest to play a game instead of keep away. Once the Lions had to play that game, they set their sights on sealing the state championship.
Trusty scored just 18 seconds after Russo's third goal to give Penncrest a 10-6 lead and its momentum from the middle quarters. Once the lead was back to four goals, the Lions couldn't be stopped.
Bonnett scored with 6:48 left to make it 11-6 and Robert Logan sealed the state title with a blast past Schreiner to give the Lions a six-goal lead with 5:06 to play.
As Penncrest (25-1) celebrated its first state championship on the field, the greatest season in the 13-year history of Avon Grove lacrosse ended with a loss.
That wasn't the plan for Peck and Schreiner, but it didn't matter. The two Under Armour All-Americans, along with the other 34 members of the Red Devils, still were proud of their historic season and how they brought their community together over the last three months.
"This year, we had the biggest target on our backs,' Schreiner said. "Every team gave us their best game and we still were able to beat them. We proved we were the real deal and hopefully the underclassmen learn from that and can get to the big show again.'
"In the end, we were one of two teams left in the state playing,' Peck said. "At practice yesterday, it was the first time we were able to say this is our last practice as seniors. To be one of the final two playing is a huge deal. It's a huge honor as a program and as a team. We played our hearts out today for sure and until the last whistle. It says a lot about our team.'
Penncrest 12, Avon Grove 7
Penncrest 2 3 4 3—12
Avon Grove 3 0 0 4—7
Penncrest goals: Manganiello 5, Trusty 2, Bonnett 2, Logan, Kinnard, Hanna.
Avon Grove goals: Russo 3, Peck 2, Kush 2.
Goalie saves: McCleaft (P) 12, Schreiner (AG) 11.