Mars boys lacrosse falls to Marple Newtown in deja vu PIAA championship game

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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | 4:10 PM


STATE COLLEGE — There were no smiles. Just some consoling handshakes and hugs. The Mars Fightin’ Planets didn’t come here Saturday to play second fiddle again.

They came to win their second state title in boys lacrosse, and they almost pulled it off.

But for the second time in a row, Mars lost a big, early lead to Marple Newtown and fell short of a PIAA championship, losing 11-9 at Penn State’s Panzer Stadium.

Brian Box notched two of his three goals in a span of 25 seconds late in the fourth quarter, and Evan Kostack scored four times for District 1 champion Marple Newtown (22-3).

“It was a great game, but it (stinks) to lose,” said Mars senior attack and Penn State recruit Enzo Greico, the Fightin’ Planets’ unquestioned leader.

Greico, along with junior Ian Coulter, scored three goals apiece for Mars (20-4), which built leads of 5-1 and 6-2 and was ahead 7-4 at halftime before stumbling in the second half.

“I’m devastated for these guys,” Mars coach Bob Marcoux said. “I know how hard they worked for this. I know how much they wanted it, how hard they prepared. I know they gave us everything they had.

“It’s a tough locker room right now.”

It was the third straight meeting for the schools in a PIAA championship game and Mars’ fourth trip in a row to the finals. The Fightin’ Planets lost to Allentown Central Catholic, 14-5, in 2021 and are now 1-2 against Marple Newtown.

Mars failed to protect a pair of five-goal advantages in the 2023 championship game and dropped a heartbreaking 11-10 decision to Marple Newtown on a goal by Kostack with two seconds left.

Mars, which owns the WPIAL’s only PIAA lacrosse championship for boys or girls — a 9-6 victory over Marple Newtown in 2022 — was outscored 4-1 by the Fightin’ Tigers in the fourth quarter in their latest meeting.

“They played a (great) game,” Greico said. “We’ve got all the respect in the world for them.”

Ben Bowser scored two goals and Ryan Blake added another for Mars, which has won eight consecutive WPIAL championships, four by the program’s current crop of eight seniors.

“Those guys are incredible, winning four WPIAL titles and coming to four state championship games,” Marcoux said. “They came out and showed a tremendous amount of leadership all year. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from those guys. They gave us everything they had.”

Greico is the leader of the bunch. He tried reasoning after the outcome, but it wasn’t easy to do.

“Obviously, I was super excited to be playing on that field, knowing that it’s where I’ll be playing the next four years,” Greico said. “It (stinks) that it ended that way. We put our heart and soul into that game, every possession. We tried our best and everybody fought their hardest, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Much like the 2023 championship game, Mars jumped on Marple Newtown early, Greico streaking in for a quick-strike shot that found the back of the net 56 seconds into the contest.

Marple Newtown tied it at 1-all on Kostack’s first goal of the game at the 9:20 mark.

Mars went on a four-goal run — two by Coulter — to take a 5-1 lead with 2:45 remaining in the first quarter before Box’s first of three goals with 1:35 to go pulled Marple Newtown within 5-2 heading to the second.

When asked what he’d been thinking about with his team ahead by three goals, Marcoux didn’t have to think long.

“Last year,” he said.

“I knew this was going to be a 1-2 goal (margin) game. We had to fight the whole way through. It’s never over ‘til there’s three zeros on the clock.”

It was reminiscent of the 2023 champion game, when Mars led Marple Newtown 5-0 and 6-1 in the first quarter.

“We tried to keep making sure they were fired up and playing the game, and they did,” Marcoux said. “Our defense gave them a great effort. We communicated well.”

Like it did in the first quarter, Mars scored in the first minute of the second, Coulter’s shot making it 6-2 with 42 seconds gone in the period.

Marple Newtown cut the deficit to 6-4 with a pair of scores less than two minutes apart.

Jace Kostack connected with 10:22 to go before halftime followed by James Kirby’s goal just inside the 9-minute mark on a play that developed quickly after Mars lost possession near midfield.

“I really was pleased with most phases of the game, except for a few turnovers,” Marcoux said.

The third quarter saw Marple Newtown claw back and tie the score at 7-all on three goals by Evan Kostack. The Fightin’ Tigers, though, settled for an 8-7 deficit heading to the fourth after Greico found the net with just 12 seconds left in the third.

“Our guys settled down and understood the work they put in and the skill set they have,” Marple Newtown coach Kevin Merchant said. “Mars has some really good players; Greico is a phenomenal player. When we settled down and started to realize how we could support each other and slide to each other in doubles and everything else that’s out there, our defense showed.

“We just tried to stay compact, tried to stay calm and not let the frustrations get there.”

With the game heading to the fourth quarter, the momentum was shifting — despite Mars’ slim, one-goal advantage — and Marple Newtown took its first lead with 8:44 left.

After the Fightin’ Tigers’ Ryan Keating tied it on a goal inside the 10-minute mark of the fourth, Brett Wolski’s breakaway score less than a minute later put Marple Newtown ahead, 9-8.

Mars continued to fight, with Bowser’s goal with 5:38 to go bringing the Fighting’ Planets back to a 9-9 tie. But it was the last time they’d score before Box sealed the outcome with a pair of goals for Marple Newtown in the final 3:22.

“Unbelievably proud,” Greico said, referring to his time on Mars’ team. “We talk about being able to maximize time together. All four of my years here, we’ve been able to do that, which at the end of the day is the most important thing. We’ve always valued spending as much time together as possible.”

Despite another disappointing outcome in a state championship game, Mars remains the WPIAL’s flagship lacrosse program and among the leaders in the western half of Pennsylvania.

“You’re seeing the sport grow and you’re going to start seeing more teams from the west improve and get better,” Merchant said. “You’ve got a team like Mars setting the table for all those guys. It’s great to see the game grow, and I anticipate definitely seeing it grow all over. It’s a credit to Mars for growing it for their area.”

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