Jac Gemmill scored four times and Matt Hale made 15 saves for Red Lion in its 11-8 win over Central. Brandon Stoneburg
For weeks, the top YAIAA boys' lacrosse contenders have beaten up on each other, leapfrogging up the standings with no one team separating themselves as the top dog.
Well, Tuesday may have presented some clarity on who the top team is right now: Red Lion.
The Lions (11-3, 8-1), who were playing their sixth game in eight days, held off an upstart Central York team, 11-8, to break a tie with the Panthers for sole possession of first place and clinch a YAIAA playoff berth.
"When was the last time Red Lion was in first place?" Lions head coach Stefan Striffler said. "It's been a long time. It's nice that we're there. We've got two league games left and we want to get the first seed in the playoffs. We want to win the playoffs. It's been our goal all along."
Tuesday was a huge step in the right direction if the Lions hope to win their first regular season title since 2011 and their first-ever YAIAA tournament title. Central was, and still remains, potentially the biggest threat to the Lions' throne. The Panthers (9-3, 7-2) came in having won six of their last seven games and their only two losses this season were to York Suburban and Hershey by a combined five goals. But with the win, Red Lion boasts victories over Dallastown, York Suburban, West York, York Catholic and Central with Susquehannock coming up Thursday.
"I want us to be in first place," said Striffler, who described his team as mentally and physically exhausted. "I'm not shying away from that. I want to win."
Central took an early 3-2 lead after their top duo — Katon Yantek and T.J. Ross — connected in transition. But the Lions reeled off a 7-1 run heading into the half as Matt Hale, who finished with 15 saves, kept the Panthers' high-powered offense at bay.
"He played lights out," Striffler said of Hale. "We've needed him all year and he's been the guy."
"We've been thinking about this one a lot," Hale added. "This is the game we came to play and we played with a lot of intensity."
Goals by Alex Kilgour, Connor Hoch and Gavin George brought the Panthers within two at 9-7 heading into the fourth but that's the closest they would come. The loss, while tough to swallow for a Central squad out to prove they belong in the same conversation as the top teams in the league, doesn't deter the Panthers from their main goals.
"We play for districts, we play for championships," Central York head coach Tom Mayne said. "We're not here for first place or second right now and we knew this game would be hard...I tell this team and I firmly believe it and it's not a slight against Red Lion or any other team, but I only think we can beat ourselves. I believe we have the capability to beat any team, anywhere on any given day if we play it our way."