MARPLE — Some things just never seem to change.
The middle and lower ends of the Catholic League have fluctuated a bit over the past four years, but in that time, there's been a two-team hierarchy at the top.
The regular-season order has seen Archbishop Carroll and Cardinal O'Hara flip-flop spots a couple of times, but in the long run, the Patriots and Lions are the two teams squaring off for the PCL title. And if all goes according to the same script, the teams have followed for the past three years, it'll be Carroll holding up the championship hardware.
The Patriots held up their end of the semifinal bargain by ending Bonner-Prendergast's season by a 3-1 score Monday afternoon at O'Hara. The Lions returned the favor by upending Archbishop Wood, 8-1, at Bonner-Prendie. Carroll and O'Hara will square off yet again Wednesday night at Neumann at 7 with the Patriots hoping to avenge a 2-1 regular-season loss to the Lions.
"It's exciting,' said senior Carroll defender and Virginia commit Becca Zamojcin, who's aiming to claim her fourth title. "It's different every year. You never get used to it, though, and it's going to be tough this year. (O'Hara) is a fast team. They're skilled, they're strong, but so are we, so it's just about who comes to play, honestly.'
The Patriots punched their ticket to the final thanks to something they haven't been especially adept at this year. Getting out to good starts early has been a struggle at times for Carroll, so goals from Meredith Campbell and Grace Midgley 10:21 into the game were a big boost for the Patriots. Campbell benefited from a scrum in front and tapped in an Alyssa Lemons pass, while Midgley expertly deflected a Katie Kucia shot through the legs of Prendie goalie Cara Connors, who stopped 20 shots.
"We've been having trouble starting and that's what our coaches have been working on with us in getting out hard right away,' Zamojcin added. "Sometimes, it takes us a while to get going. (Monday) we started with our possession passing right away and we connected really well and I think that's what made us more successful. As we got used to each other, our possession got better and our starting got better.'
The Pandas temporarily halted the Patriots' early momentum when Mary Anne Young set up a Sierra Stretch tally nearly seven minutes later. Stretch took the feed, pulled off a nifty pull move and zipped a shot past goalie Kerri Mountz (four saves) to briefly give Prendie life, but Lemons halted that when she banged home a pass from Sam Swart to re-extend the Patriots' lead to two.
"(The early goals) were very important,' Lemons said. "We wanted to score as much as we could at the beginning and keep playing throughout the whole game the same (way).'
While the Pandas' season came to a screeching halt, the progress that they'd made since last year wasn't lost on them. Prendie will bid adieu to seven seniors, but Allison Lovejoy's group will be a force to be reckoned with next season ... and the season after that ... and for several seasons after that.
"We worked a lot better this year,' said Young, one of the leaders of a talented Bonner-Prendie junior class. "Our passes were a lot better and the team just did a lot better. We know we can do it (next year). We know we could have done it (this year) and we can definitely do it next year. I want it even more now.'
In order to get that Catholic League title, Young and the Pandas will probably have to go through O'Hara and Carroll again, and it's doubtful that either team will give up its spot atop the league's perch.
"We're going to go in focused as a team (and) as a unit and hopefully do what we did last year. (We need to) play like today,' Lemons said. "We played really well. I'm excited to play (O'Hara) again. It's really good competition, but I think we've got it.'
With the past three years' track record working with her, it's hard to argue with Lemons, but the Lions will be gunning for that plaque.