Beau Kush and the Avon Grove boys lacrosse team had a simple formula once the Red Devils entered the playoffs in May.
Avon Grove made a deep run in the PIAA playoffs last season, but falling in the state semifinals put this season's goals into a simple, but large perspective.
"We want to be the only team winning our last game," Kush said. "At the same time, we're just preparing for what is ahead of us and trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves."
That strategy has paid off for the Red Devils all season as their last game of the season has finally come. Avon Grove will seek its first state title this afternoon against Penncrest in the PIAA championship in Hersheypark Stadium at 2:30 p.m. (TV-PCN).
The journey has been long for Avon Grove (20-4) to get to Hershey, but the Red Devils have used their veteran experience to help them through the District 1 and PIAA playoffs.
"The feeling of being in this game is so overwhelming," said goalie Will Schreiner on Tuesday. "I'm planning on sitting in my bed and thinking about this all week. Just having a few more practices with these guys will feel great"
Led by 16 seniors, Avon Grove repeated as District 1 champions and won 20 games for the second straight season. The Red Devils survived an upset bid by Hershey in the first round of states with a game-winning goal by Tanner Peck in the final seconds of regulation. Since that game, Avon Grove outscored its next two opponents (Wilson and Radnor) by a combined score of 27-17.
Since a 10-7 loss to Bishop Shanahan on May 1 which would ultimately decide the Ches-Mont championship, Avon Grove has won 10 straight games; their longest win streak of the season.
The end result is an appearance in the state championship game, which is the first in school history.
Tanner Peck is one of those 16 seniors who will take the field for the final time Saturday. Win or lose, Peck believes it's fitting to play his final game with his lacrosse family in capping his high school career at Hersheypark Stadium.
"There are no words to describe this," Peck said. "Never been (to state title game) nor experienced it, but we have the team that can do it. What a better way to end our season with these seniors and everybody else on this team."
The challenge that awaits Avon Grove is Penncrest, the fifth-place team from District 1. The Lions (24-1) earned the top-seed in the District 1 tournament after winning the Central League title and going unbeaten in their first 19 games of the season.
Then, Penncrest was upset by Springfield (Delco) in the district quarterfinals and had to win the consolation bracket to make the PIAA tournament. The Lions battled through with an overtime win over Central Bucks East followed by a win over Upper Dublin in the District 1 fifth-place game.
Since that loss to Springfield (Delco), Penncrest has won five straight and have scored over 10 goals in three games during the streak. Avon Grove head coach Eric Jackson knows the Red Devils have to play their game in over to beat the Central League champs.
"Penncrest is a tough team and have a lot of weapons," Jackson said. "They have many great players in key areas. It's going to be a battle."
The Penncrest attack unit of Will Manganiello, Drew Hanna and Alex Bonnett is one of the top units in the state as the trio has combined for 157 goals on the year.
"We've seen some film on them so we know a little bit of what they got," Peck said. "Penncrest is a good team for sure and it's going to be a real test. We're going to come out ready and hungry."
Avon Grove might have one of the hottest goal scorers in the state tournament with Stephen Cyron. The junior has 12 goals in the PIAA playoffs to give him 68 on the season, which leads the Ches-Mont League.
"He finds space in the defense to get himself open no matter what they are playing," Kush said after Tuesday's semifinal win. "The best thing about our team is our depth. We can count on every player and when someone doesn't play their best game, we have others to fill the spot."
Win or lose, Avon Grove will be playing in the final game of the season just as the Red Devils set out to do. Now that they are in Hershey, just playing in the state title game isn't enough.
Especially for Cyron, who wants to thank the upperclassmen for what they have done for the program over the last four years.
"Last year we were caught in the moment a bit, but not this year," Cyron said. "The seniors just give us that extra motivation we need. Let's do this for them. All of them are graduating and we want to send them off on a high note."