Unstoppable Mars wins 8th straight WPIAL boys lacrosse championship

Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | 11:06 PM

There’s no stopping the offensive onslaught once Mars starts rolling.

Once the Fightin’ Planets get up on a team, they don’t let off the pedal.

In a rematch of last year’s championship game, Mars cruised to a 16-5 victory Wednesday over South Fayette in the Class 2A finals at Joe Walton Stadium at Robert Morris to win its eighth straight WPIAL championship.

“It never gets old. This is fantastic,” said Mars coach Bob Marcoux. “These guys have worked their butts off to get here. They don’t take anything for granted. They take everything seriously. I’m really proud of them and the effort the put forth.”

“I’m on cloud nine right now,” said Fightin’ Planets senior faceoff specialist Jack McKenzie, who is one of eight seniors who have won four titles in a row.

The Mars attack started with McKenzie, who won 17 of 23 faceoffs.

“When Jack McKenzie’s winning faceoffs, we’re tough to beat because we hold the ball for the majority of the game,” said Marcoux.

“The quicker we get it to the offense, the quicker we can score and stay ahead of the opponent,” said McKenzie.

Senior attackman Enzo Grieco, a Penn State recruit, led the charge for Mars with four goals and two assists.

Junior Ian Coulter and senior Ryan Blake each recorded a hat trick, while senior Dylan Phillips and sophomore Jack Tirch each scored a pair for the Fightin’ Planets. McKenzie and sophomore Henry Saver each added a goal for top-seeded Mars (17-3).

Two of Grieco’s goals were worthy of their own highlight reel.

In both the second and third quarters, he took the ball, sped across the field 15 yards from the goal, jumped, spun and whipped a shot into the net.

“Those two goals were ridiculous,” said Marcoux. “He knows that every team is going to focus stopping him, so he does a great job of being unselfish and not trying to force anything.”

South Fayette (19-2) used junior defenseman Carter DeWitt to shadow Grieco all over the zone and found some success early, holding Grieco to just two goals in the first half.

“That was the game plan going in,” said Lions coach Shawn Leydig. “He’s our best guy. It’s hard to deny how good Grieco is. He’s going Division I for a reason.”

Even as DeWitt guarded Grieco well, Grieco used his feel for the defender to get creative with his spinning goals.

“I could feel DeWitt was playing my hips a lot and I knew that if I got out and my hands away, I could shoot,” Grieco said.

No. 2 South Fayette held the Fightin’ Planets to three goals in the first quarter, but watched as Mars ramped up the intensity, scoring six swift goals within four minutes.

“They were winning all of the faceoffs, and that’s a great start to any possession. We just couldn’t overcome them,” said Leydig.

South Fayette had a couple of long possessions in the Mars zone, but came away with only a few shot attempts.

“The defense was incredible, and it’s led by Cole Yoshioka. He’s the main guy and does a great job of leading,” said McKenzie.

It wouldn’t be until late in the third quarter when the Lions would finally put points on the board.

Freshman Bryce Watkins scored two goals and senior Wade Scholar added another in the third quarter. Drew Welhorsky added a goal halfway through the fourth and Nick Young deposited another with two minutes left in the game.

“Once we got the ball down in their zone, we were able to move the ball around and get some goals, but it was just too little too late,” Leydig said. “They’re a really good program.”

Overall, it was a great season for the Lions, who at one point rattled off 17 straight wins.

“I’m a proud coach,” said Leydig. “We just ran into Mars again. They run things right over there and until somebody beats them, they’re the king of the mountain.”

Mars opened the scoring as Blake received a pass from junior Ben Bowser on the perimeter, blew by the defender and deposited the ball into the net.

Mars used its speed and quickness throughout the contest to maintain possession of the ball, scooping up 37 total groundballs.

“No matter how many times we win, we always pride ourselves on the little things,” said Grieco. “That’s what our coaches preach.”

Mars came out firing in the second quarter. Sophomore Henry Saver, Grieco and Blake each scored in succession to give the Fightin’ Planets a 6-0 lead. Mars went into halftime with a 9-0 cushion.

The Fightin’ Planets had 42 shot attempts to the Lions’ 18. Mars goaltender Luke Spreng made four total saves and South Fayette goalie Travis Watkins made 10 stops.

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