UPPER DUBLIN — It was billed as a season-opening battle between two of District One's top lacrosse guns.
Only Friday night, one of those guns would have put Annie Oakley and Daniel Boone to shame.
Visiting Avon Grove, the returning District One champion, shot the lights out at Upper Dublin's Sparks Field, converting 12 of its 17 shots to turn back its hosts, 12-9, in bone-chilling, end-of-March contest that was worthy of a sun-baked postseason game in May.
The host Cardinals, with aspirations this year that extend well into the playoffs, were every bit ready for prime time against the Red Devils, who welcome back the bulk of the team that landed the district crown a season ago.
But ulimately, the returning champs prevailed because they couldn't miss the net.
"Avon Grove is a great team,' said Cardinals head coach J.P. Banks, "and I'm very proud of the way our guys played tonight.
"But hats off to their kids. When you shoot like they did, that's really impressive.'
"They shot very well,' added Upper Dublin defender Jack Rapine. "Their defense did a great job locking off (Cardinals attackman Michael) Sowers, and it seemed like all of their guys had great games.'
Avon Grove knew it was in for a battle with the Cardinals in the opener, but the Devils' plans this year also include an extended postseason.
"We have great expectations for this year,' said midfielder Eric Russo, who notched two of the visitors' goals, "and we want to make sure we live up to them.
"We know what people are saying, but we can't believe the hype. We have to play hard and show what we're made of.'
Early on, however, it was the Cardinals who were putting on a show.
Mike Mullen, Ryan Siwinski and Sowers pushed the Cardinals in front, 3-1, halfway through the first period. And when the Devils retaliated with goals from Bo Kush and Tanner Peck to tie it at 3, Mullen and Evan Scott answered to restore UD's two-goal cushion.
But on this night, the Devils were as hot as their nickname implies, and goals from Russo and Bryce Reid tied the game again with 5:36 left in the half.
Sowers, the Cardinals' highlight-reel sophomore, dazzled all in attendance with a gorgeous behind-the-back goal to put the hosts back in front, 6-5, with 2:51 left in the half.
But that would be the last time Upper Dublin saw the lead.
Ryan Cook and Peck both scored to put the Devils up a goal at the break.
Then Avon Grove took over in the third period, outscoring the Cardinals, 4-2, and going up, 11-8, when Reid found the net with just four seconds left in the quarter.
Peck pushed the lead to four goals when he rifled home a shot 2:26 into the fourth, and the champs were off and running.
Although some were more confident than others.
"I didn't feel we had the game under control until there were, maybe, 2:00 left,' Russo said. "This is a big win for us, beating a great program like Upper Dublin.
"They're headed for a great season.'
As for the Cardinals, they were not the least bit demoralized by the setback.
"This was a chance for us to see what lacrosse looks like in another part of the district,' Banks said. "We got a good test tonight, and now we have to come out ready for Wissahickon on Tuesday.'
"We've been out here working really hard since the winter,' Rapine said. "Maybe this one didn't turn out how we would have liked, but this was a stepping stone game for us, a chance to see how we play against one of the best teams in the district.
"This game was exciting. We know we're a good team, and we'll go back to playing one game at a time starting Tuesday.'
CROSSE ROADS: While he was held to just two goals and an assist, Upper Dublin's Sowers managed to make at least one more fan. "He's for real,' marveled Avon Grove's Russo. "He's really something else to watch play.'