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Trip to Ohio sparks Franklin Regional boys lacrosse winning streak

| Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
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Members of the Franklin Regional varsity boys lacrosse team include, in front, from left: Devin Arrigo (captain), Jake Zentner, Nate Seymour, Ryan Gabrin and Connor Cummins (captain); in the middle, from left: Connor Echols, Justin Naugle, Dom Giannangeli, Nate Fleck (captain), Alex Paterson and coach Dave Alexander; and in back, from left: John Matthews (captain), Michael Gabrin, Jon Cavalier, John Wohlin and Nate Baron. Players Michael Nejak and Cole Seymour and assistant coaches Rich Vislocky and Tom Duman are not pictured.

For the Franklin Regional boys lacrosse team, Monday's nonsection game at Mt. Lebanon was important not because of the Blue Devils' status as defending WPIAL champions, but because of their recent dominance over the Panthers.

Entering Monday's contest, Mt. Lebanon had won 14 of the past 15 meetings against Franklin Regional, including a matchup in the first round of the 2013 WPIAL playoffs. But the Panthers turned the tables Monday night, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and holding off a Mt. Lebanon rally for a 7-5 victory.

“We weren't even thinking about (them being) the defending champs,” senior midfielder Devin Arrigo said. “It was more about the past decade, Lebo has, to say the least, dominated us. We did it for Franklin.”

“It's always a big game (against) Mt. Lebanon, every year,” junior Nate Fleck added. “But we know the talent this team has, and we felt we had to come out here and prove something.”

Recently, Franklin Regional (4-4) is proving that a slow start didn't necessarily doom its chances of qualifying for the WPIAL postseason. Since a 1-4 start, the Panthers had won three straight games through Monday's action, including a section victory over Butler and nonsection triumphs over playoff-caliber opponents Mt. Lebanon and Peters Township.

“We basically dictated a good three-quarters of that (Peters Township) game,” Alexander said of the 10-6 victory over the Indians, who were 7-3 through Monday. “We played it how we wanted to play it, and I don't think they were expecting us to play it how we did.”

Alexander traces the team's recent success to a road trip to the Columbus, Ohio, area, where the Panthers played games against Dublin Jerome and Worthington Kilbourne high schools. While Franklin Regional lost both games, Alexander said playing games against two higher-quality opponents ultimately helped the Panthers.

“If you don't play those teams, you in your mind may have a mindset that the (Mt. Lebanons) of the world, the Shady Side Academies of the world, the top-ranked teams, are impossible to beat,” Alexander said. “They're tough. They're challenging.

“But whenever you play against some of these top-ranked teams in the Midwest and you have your players be able to go 1-on-1 and score or have big saves or defensive stops ... I think the players gain a little more confidence. (They think), ‘Wait a minute, if I can do this against Dublin Jerome, I can most certainly do it against the teams in Western Pennsylvania.”

Alexander said the team's many road trips — of the Panthers' first eight games, only one was at home — also afforded the players an opportunity to bond.

In recent games, the team is getting scoring from its attackers and midfielders, along with strong work from the defense and goalkeeper and good work on faceoffs by John Wohlin.

“We know how to play,” senior goalkeeper Jake Zentner said. “We just need to keep it together like we have these last three games and take it to them. We know we can win.”

At 1-2 in section play, the Panthers can't afford many more section losses if they hope to make the playoffs. Franklin Regional hosted Hampton on Wednesday, past the deadline for this week's edition, and will travel to play Sewickley Academy on Thursday.

“We always look at the next game being the biggest game, but our section games are going to be very important,” Alexander said. “We've been watching a lot more game film this year than in previous years, so having a good idea of the teams we're playing beforehand is definitely a benefit.

“ ... One good thing is we still have a lot of our season ahead of us. We have (eight) games of experience under our belt, with another (six) to keep building on them. We definitely have been moving in the right direction with the things we've been doing. I would only expect better things to come.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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