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PIAA boys lacrosse championship preview: Mars defense a focal point, focused on Marple Newtown again

Mars’ Jack Dwyer, second from left, battles for a ground ball during a boys lacrosse game against Knoch earlier this season. The Mars defense is preparing for a stiff test against defending state champion Marple Newtown in Saturday’s PIAA final at Penn State University. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

Despite watching his team score 111 goals in six playoff games this spring, Mars boys lacrosse coach Bob Marcoux knows his defense will be just as much a focal point when the Planets attempt to win the second PIAA Class 2A title in program history on Saturday.

Standing in the team's way is District 1 champion Marple Newtown. The Planets (20-3) and Tigers (21-3) will square off at noon Saturday at Penn State University's Panzer Stadium. It is the third consecutive year the two foes will decide the state crown.

"We've been keeping an eye on them all season," said Marcoux. "We thought there was a good chance that if we made the final again, it would probably be against them."

Senior Cole Yoshioka is the leader of Mars' defense, but has had a lot of help in thwarting opponents' possessions. The long-stick midfielders are Dom Caldwell and Jack Dwyer, who was recently named All-WPIAL as a freshman.

Also playing on the back end are Jack Mueller and Cole Dermitt.

Ryan Kelly, Sean Brennan, Reed Fuller and Chase Lamm provide Mars with valuable depth on that end of the field.

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"Coach Grus (Matt, defensive coordinator) works well with the players," said Marcoux. "He's added a few twists to our slide packages and works a lot with the defense on clearing the ball."

Marple has no shortage of firepower on offense, led by junior attack/midfielder Brian Box and sophomore attack Evan Kostack.

"Box is quick, shifty and has two-way capabilities," said Marcoux. "He's one of the best players in the country."

According to insidelacrosse.com, Box "... does a lot of things well and has an awesome first step. The left-hander dodges and shoots hard, and embraces his work as a short-stick defender on the other end along with being a tremendous asset in transition."

Kostack scored all three of the Tigers' goals in the second half of a 6-3 state semifinal win over Bayard Rustin on Tuesday. The game was tied 3-3 at halftime. Before the low-scoring affair, the Tigers were averaging nearly 16 goals per contest in five prior playoff games.

Marple brought a very potent offense into the previous two state finals against Mars. The Planets held the Tigers in check in a 9-6 win two years ago, but Mars allowed 10 goals in the final three quarters in Marple's 11-10 victory in 2023.

Both teams have dominant faceoff specialists, Mars with Jack McKenzie and Marple with Alex Chambers. The latter won 17-of-19 faceoffs in a 14-5 win in the District 1 final against Rustin last month.

Besides McKenzie’s 224 ground balls, Mars midfielders Ben Bowser (63) and Josh Wilburn (62) and Dwyer (62) have been strong in that category.

The Planets earned their fourth straight appearance in the state title game by climbing out of a 5-0 hole in Tuesday's 20-10 semifinal win over South Fayette.

"Lacrosse is a streaky game and they (Lions) took advantage of our mistakes early on," said Marcoux.

"We needed to get our heads screwed on right," said junior goalie Luke Spreng. "Coach Grus holds everyone accountable and because of that, when things do go wrong, we are able to fix things quickly and we fixed them (Tuesday) night."

The lapse against South Fayette may be just what the doctor ordered for the Planets as they prepare to take on a talented and seasoned Marple squad.

"We know we have to come out hotter (Saturday)," said Caldwell, a senior. "We work well as a unit on defense and are confident."

Mars’ offense is paced by Enzo Grieco’s 89 goals, with Ian Coulter (79), Ryan Blake (50) and Dylan Phillips (48) leading a strong supporting cast. Phillips has 41 assists, Grieco 31 and Blake 29.

But goals don't figure to come easily for either team on Saturday.

"Marple is outstanding on defense," said Marcoux of the Tigers, who have allowed exactly three goals in each of their three state playoff games thus far. "They're big, athletic and tough and it will be a big challenge for us.

"We want to be able to take advantage of chances in transition when they come, but we fully expect this to be a (6-on-6) game."

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Marco D’Alicandro, who made seven saves in last year’s win over the Planets, will once again be in net for the Tigers.

Win or lose, Caldwell, who does not plan on playing lacrosse in college, will see his lacrosse career end at Panzer Stadium. He does not take lightly consistently playing this deep into the season.

"There's a lot of teams out there that work very hard, but so many of them don't get this opportunity," he said. "We are blessed."

Marple Newtown coach Kevin Merchant could not be reached for comment.

PIAA Class 2A boys lacrosse championship: What to know about Mars vs. Marple Newtown

Where: Panzer Stadium, Penn State University

When: Saturday, noon

Tickets: $8, can be purchased at piaa.org

Broadcast: Live on cable (PCN) or stream at pcntv.com/sports/

How they got here: Mars (20-3), led by coach Bob Marcoux, won its 8th consecutive District 7 title last month. The Planets then defeated Hershey (19-3), Devon Prep (18-6) and South Fayette (20-10) in the state playoffs.

Marple Newtown (21-3), led by coach Kevin Merchant, won the District 1 championship before dispatching Crestwood (16-3), Allentown Central Catholic (15-3) and Bayard Rustin (6-3) in the state playoffs.

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